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Solar-powered soldiers are the future

September 23rd, 2009
Soldiers of the future will look to the sun for their equipment’s energy needs, according to University of Glasgow scientists.

Researchers in the Department of Chemistry are working on ways in which soldiers on the battlefield can harness solar energy to power equipment such as radios, counter-measure devices, weapons and sights and torches.

The project has received £657,437 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Ministry of Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

Professor Duncan Gregory, who is leading the project, said: “Ensuring soldiers are as mobile as possible and not burdened with unnecessary weight is essential to enable them to operate as efficiently and as comfortably as possible on the battlefield.

“At present, soldiers are required to carry significant amounts of battery power but in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where the sun shines so much, there is a plentiful supply of clean, renewable energy which could be harnessed.”

The team will use thermo-electric and photo-voltaic devices integrated into battle fatigues to generate the electricity.

Thermo-electric devices take advantage of the Seebeck Effect to generate electricity between two different types of material when there is a temperature difference between them, for example; the difference in night temperature between the cool exterior and warm interior of battle dress could generate electricity.

Photo-voltaic cells, on the other hand, produce electricity as a result of electrons in the material of the cell being excited by photons - or light rays - from the sun.

If the battle dress could be coated in photo-voltaic cells, energy from the sun could be captured and the fatigues would also have the advantage of being invisible to infra-red detection systems such as night-vision equipment.

Prof Gregory added: “Our initial objective is to produce nano-structured films of photo-voltaic (PV) and thermo-electric (TE) on substrates separately, then together and then on flexible substrates. PV materials will be developed by partners at Loughborough.

“If we can achieve these things then we can begin to think about how the next stage will happen - the integration of the flexible devices in a uniform, on body armour or, more likely to start with, on equipment or a soldier's helmet, for example.”

The solar cells on the battle dress would be protected against wear and tear and climatic conditions by polymeric films and it would be possible to camouflage the material by applying colours as required.

A battery would be required to story energy that wasn’t needed for immediate use but the battery would be rechargeable and, hence, much smaller than those currently in use, extending the range of an infantryman considerably.

At present, soldiers typically carry between 45 and 70kg of equipment, dependent on role, with batteries and power sources accounting for more than 10 per cent of this weight. This limits the duration of operations before batteries need to be recharged.

In collaboration with partners at Leeds, Reading and Brunel, the Glasgow team hopes to halve the weight of power systems, and by integrating the energy systems into dress and equipment, also reduce the bulk.

Prof Gregory said: “Our system will include supercapacitors developed by partners at Strathclyde which are well equipped to store charge and cope with peak output on demand.”

The two-year project is being led by the University of Glasgow, working with Strathclyde, Loughborough, Leeds, Reading and Brunel universities. Funding is also being provided by Rockwell-Collins, the University of Leeds and Brunel University.

Source: University of Glasgow

Citation: Solar-powered soldiers are the future (2009, September 23) retrieved 28 June 2022 from
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