Grid Scale, Solar, Storage

Solar Technology for the Soldier as a System

The United States Army is funding Konarka Technoogies in the development of photovoltaic technology that will provide soldiers with a source of lightweight, flexible, scalable and renewable power in a variety of form factors for military applications.

Lowell, Massachusetts – August 5, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] “One of the top concerns in the military is the need to develop ultra-lightweight renewable power for the equipment and electronics that soldiers use, such as displays, computer systems and communications devices,” said Philip Brandler, Director, U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center (NSC). “The weight of the batteries that soldiers must now carry is an ever-increasing problem, as the electronics behind future warrior systems become more sophisticated, complex and reliant on portable battery power. As a result, Konarka is an ideal partner to help develop technology that will address this issue, which will mitigate a significant logistics burden and therefore greatly enhance the military’s capabilities in the field.” Konarka leverages nanotechnology and conducting polymers to provide a source of renewable power. Their technology converts sunlight as well as indoor, artificial light into direct current electrical power. The company uses unique, proprietary low-temperature production methods to put the photovoltaic cells onto flexible, lightweight plastics. “Today, soldiers use disposable or rechargeable batteries. This presents a serious issue, as rechargeable batteries and necessary backup power supplies are heavy and extremely burdensome to carry,” said Dr. Lynne Samuelson, Research Chemist at NSC. “Disposable batteries expose soldiers as they leave a detectable footprint in the field. Konarka addresses the need for lightweight power with its unique cold-sintering process, which allows photovoltaic cell material to be coated onto plastics, as the product’s shell becomes a power source.” An initial project between the NSC and the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, led to a breakthrough chemical process, known as “cold sintering,” that resulted in the formation of Konarka. The cold sintering technology facilitates materials processing at relatively low temperatures, which allows Konarka to create photovoltaic cells without exposing the materials to destructive high temperatures in the manufacturing process, enabling the company to develop flexible cells on lightweight, flexible materials, rather than on glass or silicon. Under the current program, Konarka will supply prototypes of modules and demonstrate their ability to charge batteries and operate military equipment. “We take great pride in our partnership with the Natick Soldier Center, as Konarka continues to develop lightweight, flexible, scalable and durable photovoltaic technology for the military,” said Dr. Bill Beckenbaugh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Konarka Technologies, Inc. “We envision future uses of the technology will include self-powered electronics, structures, and soldier’s uniforms that will generate power.” The NSC is located at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts, under the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM). The mission of the NSC is to maximize the soldier’s survivability, sustainability, mobility, combat effectiveness and quality of life by treating the soldier as a system. The NSC performs basic and applied research, technology development and demonstration, and engineering of combat clothing and individual equipment, rations and food service equipment, airdrop systems, shelters, and organizational equipment. They also integrate and transition the technologies for combat-essential elements of command and control, survivability, lethality, sustainability and mobility into the soldier system and warrior systems for other services and agencies. Situated near the nation’s birthplace of the Army, NSC is the birthplace of the concept of the soldier as a system.