Aussie army targets soldier solar power

Aug. 18, 2011 at 6:05 AM
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CANBERRA, Australia, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- The Australian army wants its soldiers to be equipped with portable solar panels within five years under a research deal with the Australian National University.

Australian soldiers carry up to 130 pounds of equipment, Australian army Maj. Gen. John Caligari, head of the army's modernization and strategic planning program, told Australia Broadcasting Corp.

Eliminating the need to carry ordinary batteries is the goal.

"We would carry dozens of AA, AAA, C cells and D cells for our operations," Caligari said. "The average soldier would probably carry (1.1 pounds) of batteries.

"If you reduce the amount of weight on a soldier's back, then clearly you make the soldier more effective. He can be out on patrol longer or get to places that he might not have been able to get to with the weight that he is carrying now."

Australian National University in Canberra developed the wafer-thin, silver-cell solar technology under a $2.3 million Capability and Technology Demonstrator contract with the Department of Defense for sustainable energy systems.

"Currently soldiers are dependent on electrical power provided by a conventional battery to power these devices," Igor Skryabin, development manager for the project, said.

"While battery technology research has delivered considerable improvements, the goal of a small, lightweight power storage system, capable of sustaining all electronic equipment for the whole time a soldier is in the field, is not yet available."

Professor Andrew Blakers, the project's chief investigator, said one of the ANU's solar panels is thick as three or four sheets of paper and weighs about the same. The individual cells within the panel can absorb light from both sides, improving efficiency of the panel.

A panel can be fixed onto a backpack, sown into clothes and wrapped around any object including a soldier's helmet.

The power-to-weight ratio is claimed to be about 100 watts per pound.

ANU has handed over commercialization of the panels to the U.S. firm Transform Solar which will make the panels at its plant in Boise, Idaho, a report in The Canberra Times newspaper said.

Transform Solar, which was brought into the project by Origin Energy, ANU's commercial partner, has a technology development center in Adelaide, South Australia, conducts cell manufacturing and development in Boise and has a cell assembly plant in Nampa, Idaho.

A prototype for the Australian army is due in December.

Earlier this month, SkyBuilt Power Inc., of Arlington, Va., said the U.S. Army is purchasing SkyBuilt portable power stations, which include solar photovoltaic generation, for use in remote locations in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force, in partnership with the Defense Technical Information Center is purchasing SkyCases and SkyPAKs, a foldable crystalline silicon PV generation product.

Also this month, the U.S. Army announced the formation of a task force to develop large-scale renewable energy projects and help it meet a goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. Work coordinated by the new U.S. Army's Energy Initiatives Office Task Force will help the military counter rising fossil fuel costs and make operations less dependent on civilian power grids.

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