Six UK universities are currently combining forces to develop a portable battery pack for British soldiers that will be powered by solar energy. By replacing the currently-used device the forces’ power packs can be made up to 50% lighter.

Dubbed the ‘Solar Soldier’ project the two-year research and development mission aims to produce a power pack where the energy is gathered from a combination of solar cells and thermoelectric devices. The team of approximately 15 scientists and researchers from Glasgow, Loughborough, Strathclyde, Leeds, Reading and Brunel University will also work on investigating ways of managing, storing and using heat produced by the system.

Soldiers have to carry multiple batteries to power devices such as weapons, radios, and GPS equipment, and they have to do so for hours at a time, often under extreme conditions. Previous attempts to lighten the 45-70 kg pack typically carried by soldiers include the use of fuel cells, li-ion batteries woven into their clothing, and autonomous pack horse-like vehicles.

Professor Duncan Gregory, of Glasgow University said, “Infantry need electricity for weapons, radios, global positioning systems and other vital pieces of equipment.

“A lot of the weight would be distributed differently with these new power packs. It would be lighter than the batteries used as we are aiming to reduce the size of those batteries, if not replace them completely. Batteries can account for over 10% of the 45kg to 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 will improve mobility.

“Thermoelectric devices convert heat to electrical energy. The idea is to harvest the energy and store it using a combination of a super capacitor and a lithium battery. As far as we are aware, there is not an integrated system like this anywhere in the world.”

“We aim to produce a prototype system within two years. We also anticipate that the technology we develop could be adapted for other very varied uses. One possibility is in niche space applications for powering satellites,” concluded Gregory

The project has received £650,000 of funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Ministry of Defence.