How can we help disaster-stricken populations around the world? The recent series of natural disasters is a reminder of the difficulties faced by disaster victims and the teams that rescue them. Access is often blocked and it is difficult to provide quick and flexible solutions to help these populations in need. Two young Frenchmen have designed the first solar balloon inflated with helium and covered with photovoltaic panels, which provide electricity to isolated areas.
Ahe founders, Julie Dautel and Cédric Tomissi, French industrial designers, are driven by a common vision: to bring energy quickly and sustainably to remote locations. Whether it is to supply enough energy to a makeshift hospital, fifteen tents in a disaster camp or a telecommunications network.
Access to electricity is one of the main obstacles to the development of isolated areas. Yet the needs are very real, particularly in the fields of industry, humanitarian aid, security and telecommunications. NGOs were the first to take an interest in the solution invented by Zéphyr Solar.
Indeed, in the field it is essential to provide concrete solutions in order to install makeshift hospitals, to secure living areas at night thanks to lighting, to install water pumps or to establish a telecommunications network to organise emergency aid and supplies.
Today, to ensure the electrification of their interventions, two types of equipment are generally used: thermal generators or conventional solar solutions.
Generating sets are capable of delivering electrical power while most solar solutions used in the field are mostly limited to very low power (a few hundred watts maximum). They only allow the recharging of portable electronic equipment, large permanent solar installations are excluded from the emergency.
Based on this observation and after several months of development, Zéphyr Solar knows that the energy solutions they design actually have a number of potential applications in many different fields.
A helium balloon inflated with helium and covered with solar cells.
The solar kits designed and developed by the startup integrate the advantages of the two solutions mentioned above without their disadvantages. Indeed, they combine the ease of deployment of thermal generators and the durability and autonomy of photovoltaic panels.
Inflated with helium in just a few minutes, the solar balloon is capable of carrying a large surface area of solar panels without impact on the ground and allows an energy production unit to be installed as close as possible to where people live. The height of the captive balloon ensures natural cooling of the panels, avoids shadows caused by vegetation or buildings and serves as a support for additional functions (lighting, telecommunications, video capture, etc.). Unlike diesel generators which are polluting and noisy, the solar balloon respects the environment.
Solar balloons combine the performance of a helium balloon with that of a kite. This technology makes it possible to use the wind to increase the balloon's lift (avoiding the effects of collapsing on the ground) while limiting the volume of helium needed to fly it.
The balloons are designed to be compact turnkey kits, sent on site with all the necessary material for their installation and corresponding to the standards of humanitarian carriers. They can be installed on site simply without the need for land development thanks to a user-oriented design; moreover, they are accessible to non-engineers thanks to simplified instructions and installation and, above all, they require only a monthly supply of helium.
"This makes it possible to deploy an energy source in as little as one hour, for example, in areas of natural disaster, explained Julie Dautel in a interview given to France TV Info in September 2017. Another advantage is that Zéphyr Solar's balloon requires very little: "no need for fuel, unlike a generator", she added.
Innovative solar panels
The technical innovation of the solar panels lies in their design, which is the result of a rigorous process of selection of the best performing materials on the market, carried out entirely in-house. It crystallises in the replacement of glass parts by a polymer encapsulation protecting the photovoltaic cells from the outside environment (humidity, abrasion, electrical insulation).
The choice of suppliers was motivated by the ability of the materials and components to have already made the transition to industrial scale in terms of quantity, cost management and integration with existing manufacturing processes. This makes it possible to calmly envisage a switch to production of these photovoltaic panels in the short term.
With a weight of less than 2 kg/m2, compared to 18 kg/ m2 for conventional panels, and a production capacity of more than 200 W/m2, this latest generation of panels will make it possible to produce tanks with a power of 1 to 10 kW while meeting the requirements of European certifications and with an estimated lifespan of 15 years.
In addition to providing energy on the ground thanks to its solar panels, the balloon also supports on-board functionalities such as a camera or a telecommunication relay antenna powered directly by the panels.
Zéphyr Solar's objective is to integrate this equipment, for which the height of the height intake ensures optimal operation. These devices are energy independent thanks to a direct power supply from the solar panels on the storage tank. It is thus possible to immediately install the services necessary at the first moments of a life base such as night lighting at height, which illuminates a wide perimeter plunged in total darkness, telecommunications whose coverage perimeter is enlarged due to the height of the devices, or video capture which allows better monitoring of the activity on the ground.
The height of the balloon can be adjusted at any time between 15 and 150 metres to meet the height requirements of the sensors on board the balloon and to adapt to its environment.
It should be noted that Zéphyr Solar positions itself as an equipment integrator for its solar balloons, thus the company is associated with leading companies in these fields. The challenge lies in the identification of mature products easily transposable to aerial applications such as those of Nokia or SigFox.
The management team is also supported both on the technical development of its solution and on the commercial development of the startup: MakeSense, Cisco, the HEC Incubator, BPI France, the French Red Cross and the Moovjee accompany them in their development.
A Social and Solidarity-based Economy company
Zéphyr Solar has been designed to meet the needs of the industrial, security and telecom air services markets while at the same time meeting the needs of NGOs responding to humanitarian disasters, providing them with a sustainable, environmentally friendly and rapidly deployable solution. The solar kits are environmentally friendly: they do not emit greenhouse gases, do not pollute the air, water or soil and are not dangerous for fauna and flora. The carbon balance of Zéphyr Solar solar balloons is seven times lower than that of a generator. They are harmless to health and eliminate any health risk, unlike generators, the emission of fine particles is zero.
Zéphyr Solar is today appealing to the public to allow the company to take off more! The organized fundraising will allow, among other things, to finance the industrialization and marketing of a first product over the next 18 months.
Visit the investment platform specialising in French startups Sowefund.