Raphaël Domjan - Between the ocean and space
Fascinated by adventure and exploration since his childhood, Raphaël Domjan is today an eco-explorer active in protecting the planet, its biodiversity and atmosphere. Through visionary projects and audacious challenges, this Swiss national wants to show that renewable sources of energy are reliable, efficient and economically viable.
A self-made 'solar man'
Born on 19 January 1972 in Neuchâtel, Raphaël Domjan dreamed from a very early age of following in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg, and in his youth he was already working on ideas of making a voyage around the world using the least amount of energy possible. At the time his choice of transport was an ultra-light amphibious vehicle. This idea, which remained a dream, was paradoxically fundamental to his future projects.
In 1998, he took part in the creation of 'Swissrescue'. To fund this association, which is concerned with environmental issues, its founding members hosted internet sites on the first 'solar servers' in the world. Then, following up on a trip around Lake Morat on a solar catamaran as part of an Expo.02 project (the Swiss national exposition in 2002) he got the idea of circumnavigating the world in a solar-power boat.
The first project: PlanetSolar
Although the project went according to plan on paper, carrying it out brought with it a number of surprises. Domjan was still unknown at the time and did not have the financial means to make his dream reality. In 2005, he set up an association and surrounded himself with people able to help him realise his project PlanetSolar. Five years later, a trimaran 35 metres long, 23 metres wide, with solar panels covering a surface of 537 m2 was launched.
The MS Tûranor PlanetSolar's port of departure and arrival was Monaco. With a crew of three, he set sail at the helm of 'his' solar boat on 27 September 2010, heading west in search of the sun. PlanetSolar returned with its Swiss skipper to 'le Rocher' on 4 May 2012 to complete the first solar-powered voyage around the world. This was a record.
… then aiming higher with SolarStratos …
The eco-explorer was already thinking about his next adventure during his Atlantic crossing in PlanetSolar. The sky was clear, the stars shining brightly and another idea came to him: approach space, see the curvature of the earth and observe the stars during the day using solar energy!
With this even more audacious project, Raphaël Domjan wants to continue demonstrating the potential of renewable energy. "Having circumnavigated the world in a solar boat, I wanted to go further and show that solar energy can enable us to do things that cannot be done with fossil fuels."
This was the beginning of a new eco-adventure that was launched in March 2014 with the name SolarStratos. The aim of the mission is to make the first-ever manned solar-flight to the stratosphere. As with PlanetSolar, Raphaël Domjan is looking for ways to improve our knowledge and expertise in the development of technologies to create a sustainable world. In his mind, "SolarStratos is a symbol of the pioneering spirit, of the dream, of innovation with the aim of demonstrating the potential of renewable energies and energy efficiency."
… but no rest in between
Between his two projects, he was not idle. During the summer of 2015, he went to the far north with the Breton navigator Anne Quéméré to attempt to navigate the North-West Passage. He used the voyage to test the capacity of solar energy in polar latitudes and extreme temperatures on his kayak, thus achieving with this eco-exploration, known as SolarArticPassage, the first-ever solar navigation in the polar regions and paving the way to the potential use of solar energy in these latitudes.
"Using innovation, the spirit of exploration and the dream to change our society and create a better world" – this is what drives Raphaël Domjan. Like various humanitarian projects through which he seeks ways to use renewable energies in developing countries.
"Today, adventures and explorations are not done to discover unknown continents or to beat records. Their aim is to protect the environment and its biodiversity," explains Domjan, the founding member of the EcoExplorer Society which includes, among others, his fellow countryman Bertrand Piccard. "In this way we can retore real meaning to the terms progress and innovation."