Professional adventurer Mike Horn is preparing for a four-year eco-voyage on a high-tech boat, and he’s calling it the Pangaea Expedition. Horn, who cut his teeth gallivanting around the North Pole and traveling the length of the equator, plans to tour the world’s ecosystems and traverse about 100,000 kilometers, most of it by boat. Meanwhile, he’ll be offering periodic educational opportunities on board for teenagers around the world. As he ticks down the days until his official launch date this October, Horn is practicing sailing his ship by crossing the Atlantic (he reached Greenland last week).

The Pangaea was designed with sustainability as its central tenet. Its primary design criterion was to be a hardy, durable ship capable of traversing the globe with minimum ecological impact. In particular, the 42-year-old Horn chose to build his vessel out of aluminum, on the theory that aluminum takes little energy to recycle. (I leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine whether aluminum is an ideal material to build a boat out of.)

This sailboat, though it will rely on its sails for most of its propulsion, uses a hydrogen fuel cell for power when it cuts through icy Arctic waters. Solar panels on the surface of the cockpit power the process of electrolysis, which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The split hydrogen is transferred into a storing device, which can then be used to run the fuel cell. Sponsored by Mercedes Benz, Horn’s ship also is equipped with Mercedes’ fuel-efficient BlueTec engines. LED lighting provides the boat’s primary illumination onboard. The project aims to bring attention to sustainability, much like how another eco-boat Earthrace, the eco-plane Solar Impulse, and other groups planned epic voyages to demonstrate the application of green technologies in dramatic, eye-catching ways.

The voyage will begin in Punta Arenas in Chile. The first major destinations will be Cape Horn, followed by Antarctica. Then on it sails to Australia, Asia, up to the Arctic, then back to the Americas, wrapping up in Punta Arenas.

Part of the goal is to bring students on board in the sailboat’s ports of call and immerse them in biodiversity and water research, including ocean clean-ups (can we send him through the great Pacific trash dump?) and coastline remediation. “Together we can tap the world’s most powerful energy source – the younger generation,” the project’s web site extols.

Story by Sandra Upson. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in July 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008 

Alternative energy boat prepares for voyage
Sails, solar energy and hydrogen fuel cells will power this boat's high sea adventure.