March 2011

Solar power could offer lighter load for British soldiers

A revolutionary type of personal power pack in development could help troops when they are engaged on the battlefield. With the aim of being up to 50% lighter than conventional chemical battery packs used by British infantry, the solar and thermoelectric-powered system could make an important contribution to future military operations, according to ScienceDaily.

The project is being developed by the University of Glasgow with Loughborough, Strathclyde, Leeds, Reading and Brunel Universities, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It is also supported by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

The system's innovative combination of solar photovoltaic cells, thermoelectric devices, and leading-edge energy storage technology will provide a reliable power supply round-the-clock, just like a normal battery pack. The team is also investigating ways of managing, storing, and utilizing heat produced by the system.

Because it is much lighter, the system will improve soldiers' mobility. Moreover, by eliminating the need to return to base regularly to recharge batteries, it will increase the potential range and duration of infantry operations. It will also absorb energy across the electromagnetic spectrum, making infantry less liable to detection by night vision equipment that uses infra-red technology, for instance.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: "The armed forces often need to carry around a huge amount of kit and the means to power it. It's great that specialists from a range of science disciplines are coming together to develop lighter, more reliable technology that will help to make life easier for them in the field."

Although substantial research into solar power for soldiers has already been conducted worldwide, this new U.K. project differs in its use of thermoelectric devices to complement solar cells, delivering genuine 24/7 power generation capability. The project team is also investigating how both types of device could actually be woven into soldiers' battle dress, which has never been done before.

During the day, the solar cells will produce electricity to power equipment. During the night, the thermoelectric devices will take over and perform the same function. The system will also incorporate advanced energy storage devices to ensure electricity is always available on a continuous basis.

The team includes specialists from a wide range of disciplines including chemistry, materials science, process engineering, electrical engineering and design. Feedback from serving soldiers will also play a crucial role in optimizing the power system for front-line use. The team aims to produce a prototype system within two years.


British Soldier
Soldier in a fictitious but realistic urban, desert environment. The superimposed numbers are readings for anticipated sunlight.
(Source: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)