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Artificial photosynthesis, which does not require direct sunlight: Defence Dept to replace lithium batteries

Posted by gmarkets on 4 October, 2007

Soldiers could soon be recharging their radios, sensors and night vision goggles with high-tech solar panels as the army sought an edge on the battlefield by reducing its reliance on disposable batteries, wrote Paul Bibby in The Sydney Morning Herald (25/9/2007, p.5).

New solar technology: Earlier this year the military engaged a solar technology company, Sustainable Technologies International, to develop a panel that was portable, durable and discreet enough to be used on the front line. The result of the $2 million project was a panel weighing just 400 grams and flexible enough to be moulded to a soldier’s backpack. The cells on the panel, which produce about 10 watts per square metre, use a form of artificial photosynthesis which does not require direct sunlight. This meant they can be used under camouflage nets during covert operations.

Replacing lithium: Defence chiefs believed the panels could one day replace the tens of thousands of disposable lithium batteries used each year as the main source of power for troops in the field. The batteries contained toxic chemicals that were pollutants and could endanger soldiers in battle if they were exposed to flame or extreme temperatures and explode. Lieutenant-Colonel John Baird said that the battlefield was becoming more power hungry and finding an alternative power source was vital. “This is fighting in the information age, where every soldier is connected via sophisticated communications equipment and uses sensors to provide information on an enemy’s position,” he said. “But it uses a hell of a lot of power and the disposable batteries we’re using now are far from ideal because when they run out the soldiers have to return to a base and take the used batteries with them. If we can use the sun’s radiation to recharge radios, night-vision equipment, and also things like remote sensors or small robotic cameras attached to transmitters, then that is a clear advantage.”

Greener, and safer: Defence purchased 70,000 disposable lithium batteries each year for its radios alone, at a cost of $8 million. The director of the solar panel project, Dr Gavin Tulloch, said that introducing the panels could substantially reduce the harmful environmental effects of the batteries as well as the threat they posed to troops.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 25/9/2007, p. 5

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