Monday, 27 July 2009

Assault without battery: the self-powered soldier

Engineers at Leeds University are developing a way to capture the kinetic energy produced when soldiers march, convert it into electrical energy and use it to power their equipment (radios, night vision goggles, torches etc).

The devices or 'energy harvesters', would use high tech ceramics and crystals as piezoelectric transducers in order to convert mechanical stress into an electric charge.

Instead of the need for heavy batteries, new technology would plug directly into the soldier's clothing and gear thereby knock up to 10kg off what a soldier has to carry. Eliminating the need for batteries would also reduce resupply requirements.

In a company-sized patrol on a 48 hour operation the average battery weight per man is 3.76kg with a maximum of 10.5kg. With the total carried weight ranging from 33kg to 55kg, batteries account for 10% of in the average weight and 30% in the worse case (CDE Seminar Defence Research 2009).

The Leeds project links in with the MoD's Defence Research Programme 'Reducing the Burden on the Dismounted Soldier' which is aimed at finding new ways to reduce the weight that the modern soldier has to carry - body armour, communications and IT kit, lunch and other essential equipment.

In the States researchers have been looking at other ways of reducing the soldier's need to lug around batteries by generating and storing their own power. One solution is 'nanostructured fibre'. These fibres, woven into military uniforms, would act as rechargeable batteries or 'photovoltaics'.

Leeds University: Soldiers turn a march into a charge
Technology Review: Weaving Batteries into Clothes

MoD Defence Codex: Call for weighty ideas to lighten soldier’s load