Image: The superimposed numbers are readings for anticipated sunlight. Credit Solar Soldier
Infantry soldiers pack on incredible weights of equipment between weapons, GPS devices, radios and the like, while on duty. And all that high-tech gear needs power. For Brits, the load typically adds 100 to 155 lbs (about 45 to 70 kg), more than 10 percent of which can be attributed to batteries.
A number of universities in the United Kingdom have teamed up, with funding from the Engineering Physical Sciences and Research Council and the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory, to revolutionize the battery packs that soldiers bring into the field. Combining solar cells and thermoelectric technology, which generates electricity based on the temperature difference between two surfaces, the researchers are creating systems that deliver full power, 24/7. One day, the power-generating tech might even be woven into the fabric of soldiers' uniforms.
Photovoltaic solar cells, just nanometers in size, collect energy directly from sunlight throughout the day, with zero cost and zero waste. At night, thermoelectric devices use the difference in heat between the inside and outside of a soldier's uniform to generate electricity. Along with power saved during the day — the team is working on incorporating small storage devices into the system — this should provide a reliable, continuous power source for gadgets. A working prototype is expected in the next two years, and will hopefully weigh half as much as the battery packs British soldiers carry now.
The project, known as Solar Soldier, will allow for better mobility and longer treks away from base, since returning for a recharge won't be necessary. Not to mention, according to this news release, such a system should also make it harder to detect a soldier with night vision equipment that uses, for example, infrared, since thermoelectric devices absorb energy across the electromagnetic spectrum.