The Zero Emissions Race: Around the World in 80 Days, Emissions-Free

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The Zero Emissions Race challenges teams to build renewable energy-powered cars and then race around the globe in 80 days to spread the word about sustainable transportation.
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Participants in the Zero Emissions Race line up for departure inside the Palais des Nations of the United Nations in Geneva.
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The Zero Emissions Race includes participants from Australia, Switzerland, Germany and South Korea.

Whether it’s the historic explorer Ferdinand Magellan, Phileas Fogg in Jules Vernes’ novel “Around the World in 80 Days” or even participants on the television show “The Amazing Race,” we’ve always had a fascination with stories of people traversing the globe. Now our century is getting its own take on the around-the-world story–but this time we’re using sustainable transportation.

The event is called the Zero Emissions Race, and it got its start in 2008 when Louis Palmer, a Swiss teacher, became the first man to travel around the world in a solar-powered car. The undertaking was more than a fun trip for Palmer. He wanted to show the world that renewable energy is a reliable solution for sustainable transportation (not to mention a little bit fun!) and that the technology to make this happen is available now.

Palmer took his idea of emission-free world traveling a step further this year and challenged the rest of the world to undertake a similar journey, the Zero Emissions Race. Four teams answered Palmer’s challenge and developed new vehicles to participate in the race: South Korea, Switzerland, Australia and Germany. Like Phileas Fogg, the teams will take 80 days to travel the world (excluding maritime travel) and get the word out about sustainable transportation. The race started August 16 at the United Nations Palace in Geneva,  and will end in the same city at the end of January 2011. To offset the emissions created by shipping the cars and flying the participants across the oceans, the race organizers are making in renewable energy projects.

The Zero Emissions Race isn’t a race in the typical sense. While the event is certainly a competition (the vehicles themselves will be judged at the end of the race), it’s not about who crosses the finish line first. The participating teams are traveling together, stopping in 150 different cities along the way where they will hold events to support renewable energy and answer questions about their cars. In November, the participants are even scheduled to visit the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico, where they hope to inspire world leaders to take action. At the end of the race, scientific experts on transporation will judge the vehicles on reliability, power and speed, energy efficiency, safety, design and popularity, but read through the travelers’ daily blog and you’ll get the feeling that there’s more a spirit of camaraderie than competition.

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