New soldier uniforms will harness solar power

The UK Ministry of Defense is developing infantry clothing that uses solar power technology to generate electricity.

Military uniforms will someday provide more than just camouflage.

The UK Ministry of Defense is developing infantry clothing that uses solar power technology to generate electricity. The new uniforms, enhanced with solar photovoltaic cells that are woven directly into the fabric, will be used to power vital equipment such as radio, GPS and weapons.

Researchers aim to design a wearable system that not only produces energy from sunlight during the daytime, but switches to thermo-electric devices to capture the soldier's body heat and convert it into energy whenever the sun isn't around. The addition of advanced energy storage devices should ensure that electricity is available continuously.

This technology will allow troops to be more mobile since it only weighs half as much as battery packs. And because the system absorbs heat, soldiers are also less likely to be detected by infrared cameras.

“The armed forces often need to carry around a huge amount of kit and the means to power it," says David Willetts, Britain's Minister for Universities and Science. "It’s great that specialists from a range of science disciplines are coming together to develop lighter, more reliable technology that will help to make life easier for them in the field.”

The project is being developed by the University of Glasgow with Loughborough, Strathclyde, Leeds, Reading and Brunel Universities, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). It is also supported by the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

“We also anticipate that the technology that we develop could be adapted for other and very varied uses," says Duncan Gregory, a professor at the University of Glasgow. "One possibility is in niche space applications for powering satellites, another could be to provide means to transport medicines or supplies at cool temperatures in disaster areas or to supply fresh food in difficult economic or climatic conditions.”

The collaborators expect to produce a prototype system within two years.

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