Solar-powered packs could transform mobility for infantry troops on the battlefield, according to scientists.
The Solar Soldier project is being developed by scientists at six universities including Glasgow, Loughborough, Strathclyde, Leeds, Reading and Brunel with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
They say that the revolutionary packs will be up to fifty per cent lighter than conventional chemical battery packs used by British infantry and could make a huge difference in military operations.
The solar and thermoelectric-powered system combines solar photovoltaic (PV) cells*, thermoelectric devices and leading-edge energy storage technology to provide a reliable power supply around the clock.
The team, also supported by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), are also investigating ways of managing, storing and utilising heat produced by the system
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.”
The lighter system will improve soldiers’ mobility, and by removing the need to return to base regularly to recharge batteries, it will increase the potential range and duration of infantry operations.
The solar cells will produce electricity during the day to power equipment, while at night the thermoelectric devices will take over. Advanced energy storage devices will ensure electricity is always available on a continuous basis.
The innovative pack will also absorb energy across the electromagnetic spectrum, making infantry less liable to detection by night vision equipment that uses infra-red technology.
The new power system has significant environmental advantages over the conventional battery-powered packs as it harnesses clean, free energy sources.
“Infantry need electricity for weapons, radios, global positioning systems and many other vital pieces of equipment,” says Professor Duncan Gregory of the University of Glasgow.
“Batteries can account for over ten per cent of the 45-70kg of equipment that infantry currently carry. By aiding efficiency and comfort, the new system could play a valuable role in ensuring the effectiveness of army operations.”
He added that the team aimed to produce a prototype within the next two years, while the technology they develop could be adapted for other uses.
“One possibility is in niche space applications for powering satellites, another could be to provide means to transport medicines or supplies at cool temperatures in disaster areas or to supply fresh food in difficult economic or climatic conditions,” he said.