Scientists at BAE Systems have demonstrated a method of storing electricity that could have initial applications on the battlefield.
The so-called structural batteries are designed to lighten the load of soldiers carrying rucksacks, which can typically weigh more than 71kg and be filled with numerous electrical items, but have also been demonstrated in an electric racing car.
BAE Systems claims that the patented structural batteries store the electrical energy within the physical structure of devices and help to reduce or eliminate the need for traditional batteries, which create weight and bulk as well as the burden and cost of carrying spares.
The materials were designed to help create smaller, cheaper military platforms and equipment to meet future demands, said Stewart Penney, commercialisation manager at BAE’s Advanced Technology Centre.
’We’ve been looking at a range of technologies that would deliver multi-functional materials and this work has spun out of that,’ he told The Engineer.
’The reason for doing it is to basically improve the efficiency of platforms. If you look at some of the requirements for military platforms in 10, 15, 25 years, to deliver that type of capability you need to go about doing it in a slightly different way.’
According to the defence company, the benefits for the defence sector have already been demonstrated in a micro unmanned air vehicle and a rudimentary torch. These have subsequently gained the interest of the UK Ministry of Defence as a demonstration of the obvious advantages for the UK armed forces.
To demonstrate the technology’s application beyond the battlefield, BAE Systems has also applied the technology through a partnership with race car manufacturer Lola. The Lola-Drayson B12/69EV 850hp Le Mans Prototype car incorporate structural batteries to power some of the on-board electronic systems. Lola-Drayson hope the vehicle will be the world’s fastest electric racing car.
Alex Parfitt, capability technology leader for materials at BAE Systems, said: ‘Structural batteries can be used in virtually anything that requires electricity, from small gadgets to entire vehicles. It can not only support our soldiers on the front line but also revolutionise technology in the consumer market by allowing more efficient, elegant and lighter designs.’
To develop this technology, scientists at BAE Systems are said to have merged battery chemistries into composite materials that can be moulded into complex 3D shapes, thus forming the structure of the device itself. It can then be plugged in when it needs recharging or utilise renewable power sources, such as solar energy.
The process makes use of nickel-based battery chemistries, which are commonly used in defence technology, and future developments will enable the integration of lithium-ion and lithium-polymer chemistries found in consumer electronic products such as mobile phones, MP3 players, laptops, tablets and portable games. This will not only lead to improved product designs but — eliminating the need to buy batteries — will reduce the lifetime cost to the consumer, as well as having environmental benefits.
Current development has demonstrated the ability to store useful energy in composites such as carbon fibre and glass-reinforced plastic, but in the future it could also be incorporated into fabric for a wide range of lightweight applications, from tents with their own power supply to making electric blankets a literal reality.