Britain working on solar-powered soldiers

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Britain's working on a new personal power pack for troops that should be half the weight of conventional models.

The solar and thermoelectric-powered system is under development by a group of universities, supported by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

"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."

It's not the first time that solar power's been used for solders' power packs, but combining this with thermoelectric devices is new. The team is even investigating how both types of device could actually be woven into soldiers’ battledress, which has never been done before.

The team says that the combination of solar photovoltaic, thermoelectric devices and clever storage technology will provide a reliable power supply round the clock. The team is also investigating ways of managing, storing and utilising heat produced by the system.

And the advantage isn't just less to carry. By eliminating the need to return to base regularly to recharge batteries, it will increase the potential range and duration of infantry operations. It even helps to camouflage troops, as it absorbs energy across the electromagnetic spectrum, making infantry harder to detect with night vision equipment.  

"We aim to produce a prototype system within two years," says Professor Gregory.

"We also anticipate that the technology that we develop could be adapted for other and very varied 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."