Solar soldiers have their day in the sun

27 August 2014

The Australian National University (ANU) is a step closer to solving one of the Australian Army's modern problems with testing completed for new wearable solar technology which significantly reduces the weight of batteries soldiers need to carry.

The wearable solar-cell technology was developed by the ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems, to provide efficient power generation to the Soldier Integrated Power System (SIPS).

The SIPS project was a collaboration between the ANU, CSIRO and Tectonica Australia, as part of a $2.3 million contract awarded under round 15 by the Capability and Technology Demonstrator (CTD) Program managed by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.

Project Development Manager, Dr Igor Skryabin, said the technology has been tested by soldiers who used the system to power equipment during a 72-hour training mission.

“Much of the equipment carried by Australian soldiers requires heavy battery packs, such as night-vision goggles, lights, GPS devices and communication systems. Currently, soldiers depend on conventional batteries to power these devices," Dr Skryabin said.

“The trials were performed by soldiers in a real mission environment with normal usage of power. In overcast conditions the ANU flexible panels produced sufficient power to maintain battery charge. In sunny conditions the panels charged the batteries," he said.

“Based on the success of this demonstration, ANU will be commercialising the project outcomes with industrial partners,” he said.

Director of the ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems, Professor Andrew Blakers, said the key to the wearable panels was SLIVER solar cell technology developed by ANU.

"SLIVER cells have enabled the construction of efficient, rugged, flexible and light weight portable modules that convert light directly into electricity under a wide range of environmental conditions,” he said.

"These cells have the same thickness of a sheet of paper or a human hair with an energy to weight ratio of more than 200 watts per kilogram," he said.

Professor Ken Baldwin, Director of ANU Energy Change Institute, said Solar photovoltaic research is one of the major research directions of the ANU Energy Change Institute.