Lowell, Massachusetts [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] Blending solar panels seamlessly into a building’s roof has spawned numerous developments from the solar industry including all-black panels to a host of building-integrated shingle varieties. A Massachusetts-based solar company is taking this effort one step further through a contract with the U.S. military by designing camouflage-patterned thin-film solar to help serve the military’s increasing reliance on electronics.Konarka was recently asked the United States Army to cover a $1.6 million contract to provide thin-film solar to supply power to soldier systems and Army support infrastructures. Electric power requirements are going up for both soldiers and facilities in theater of war situations. The contract is a direct result of the military’s increasing use of sophisticated electronic technologies for sensing, surveillance, communications, search and destroy, and survival on the battlefield. Today’s soldiers are being weighed down, though, by the batteries that drive these devices. They are required to carry a daily supply of primary batteries, but limited power capacity and the continual need for re-supply can limit the mobility, range and mission length required for effective field operations. Since rechargeable batteries can alleviate the soldiers’ burden and the extensive logistics support to maintain the battery supply, the Army now favors their use wherever possible, and recharging those batteries in the field is a priority. “The battlefield is going digital. Everything from night vision goggles to GPS units to two-way communicators is powered by batteries, and special operations soldiers can carry 70 to 100 pounds of replacement batteries for their electronics,” said Daniel Patrick McGahn, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Konarka. “Our power plastic can have a significant impact on reducing the modern Army’s logistics load.” To ensure soldiers can become less dependent on supply logistics and locally available power sources to charge batteries, Konarka will deliver its renewable energy generation capabilities to the Army in the devices, systems and structures that are normally deployed for remote operations. Power goes to the battlefield via equipment and supplies that already have to go into battle, including: – Portable, lightweight AA battery chargers for individual soldiers to enhance the use of handheld electronics – Large-area structures, such as tents that silently produce electrical power for battery charging or direct use. These tents can lessen the amount of diesel fuel needed for generators, reduce noise and emissions, and limit heat signature – Sensor systems, enabling extended unattended operation without regular maintenance to replace battery power As part of this new program, Konarka also will perfect its ability to print camouflage-patterned power plastic to maintain a low visible profile and continue to improve the performance of its photovoltaic fibers and fabrics. Power-generating textiles could be used for soldiers’ uniforms, tents, field hospitals, covers for trucks and gun emplacements, and wearable electronics. Russell Gaudiana, Ph.D., vice president of research and development, Konarka said that coloring and patterning without additional efficiency loss is unique to Konarka’s technology.