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  • Solar power pack lightens load for military ops

May 2011
Compiled by EuroPhotonics staff

SWINDON, UK – In a soldier's pack, every ounce counts - and a new project will lighten the burden of battery power with solar cells and thermoelectric systems.

With the aim of being up to 50 percent lighter than conventional chemical battery packs used by British infantry, the system is being developed by the University of Glasgow in collaboration with the universities of Loughborough, Strathclyde, Leeds, Reading and Brunel. Funding for the two-year project is provided by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

The system combines solar photovoltaic cells, thermoelectric devices and energy storage technology to provide a reliable power supply around the clock. During the day the solar cells will produce electricity to power the equipment and, at night, the thermoelectric devices will take over to perform the same function. The scientists also are investigating ways to manage, store and use the heat produced by the system.

In a soldier’s pack, every ounce counts – and a new project will lighten the burden of battery power with solar cells and thermoelectric systems.

Researchers in the UK are developing a lightweight personal pack powered by solar and thermoelectric systems for military use in tough, hostile conditions. This image depicts a soldier in a fictitious urban desert environment; the superimposed numbers indicate readings for anticipated sunlight. Courtesy of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The lightweight, compact design will improve soldiers’ mobility, and because the system eliminates the need to return to base for battery recharging, it will also increase the range and duration of infantry operations. Because it absorbs energy across the electromagnetic spectrum, it will make soldiers less vulnerable to detection by IR night-vision equipment.

Although research into solar power for soldiers has been conducted throughout the world, no project has used thermoelectric devices to complement solar cells for 24/7 power generation. The team also is investigating ways to incorporate both devices into soldiers’ battle dress.

The team – which comprises specialists from a variety of disciplines including chemistry, materials science, process and electrical engineering, and design – aims to develop a prototype by the end of this year. In addition to military applications, the scientists said the technology could be adapted for a variety of uses. It could be used in niche space applications to power satellites, to provide transportation for medicines or supplies at cool temperatures in disaster areas, or to supply fresh food in difficult economic or climate conditions.

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