Lightweight solar panels can be worn by soldiers in combat

Rugged, lightweight solar panels suitable for infantry soldiers to wear in combat have been developed by the Australian National University (ANU).

Infantry soldiers are increasingly being equipped with electronic devices to enhance their close-combat tactical awareness and survivability as part of the Australian Defence Force soldier-modernisation programme, said Dr Igor Skryabin, development manager for the project.

‘Currently soldiers are dependent on electrical power provided by a conventional battery to power these devices,’ said Skryabin. ‘Each battery has a different endurance and reliability level and each rechargeable type requires its own kit, compounding the bulk and weight that needs to be carried.’

Wearable lightweight solar panels have been developed by the ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems as part of an AUS$2.3m (£1.47m) Capability and Technology Demonstrator (CTD) contract with the Australian Department of Defence.

The so-called SLIVER solar-cell technology developed by ANU is now being commercialised by Transform to form the basis of the wearable solar panels. The team claims its SLIVER cells are around the thickness of a piece of paper and constructed to be rugged and flexible with a high power-to-weight ratio. The cells are also bi-facial, allowing modules to be constructed that allow light to be absorbed from both faces.

‘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,’ said Skryabin.

‘The development of these wearable solar cells will now allow soldiers to generate power in the field and reduce the need for batteries for their electronic devices. They will also establish a power supply that keeps electronic devices operational throughout the duration of missions,’ he added.