Scientists across the United Kingdom are working on a solar-powered kit that could lighten the load of soldiers—and, more important, increase their mobility—by up to 50 percent. Developed by the University of Glasgow with Loughborough, Strathclyde, Leeds, Reading, and Brunel Universities, and funded by both the Ministry of Defence and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the new uniform will use photovoltaic cells to harness the sun’s energy, as well as thermoelectric devices to turn temperature differentials into electricity (see: Seebeck Effect).
But the power system isn’t just a way to alleviate soldiers’ physical burden. (Batteries can make up more than 10 percent of the 100 to 150 pounds of equipment they carry, according to Duncan Gregory, a chemistry professor at the University of Glasgow and the project’s lead researcher.) By eliminating the need to return to base for recharging, the solar pack also increases the potential range and duration of military operations. Plus, the system will absorb energy across the electromagnetic spectrum, making troops harder to detect by infrared night-vision equipment.
The U.K. project is the first to marry thermoelectric devices with solar cells to generate power without interruption, 24/7.
Although equipping soldiers with solar-powered gear isn’t a new concept, the U.K. project is the first to marry thermoelectric devices with solar cells to generate power without interruption, 24/7. The research team is also looking to weave both devices into a soldier’s battle dress—a feat that hasn’t been attempted before. Of course, the fact that the system will tap into clean and free energy sources isn’t lost on the researchers or the military, either.
“We aim to produce a prototype system within two years,” Gregory says in a press release. “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.”