Wearable Solar Could Power Aussie Soldiers

It’s not just the U.S. military that is aggressively pursuing renewable-energy solutions to battlefield challenges: The Australian National University (ANU) is reporting on the development of “wearable lightweight solar panels” for that country’s Department of Defense.

ANU said the panels were developed at its Center for Sustainable Energy Systems as part of a $2.3 million contract with the Australian military. A chief goal of the project was to find a away to power the electronic devices that soldiers are carrying “to enhance their close combat tactical awareness and survivability,” ANU said.

wearable light-weight solar panels, Australia military

image via Australian National University

Project Manager Igor Skryabin said that while battery systems have improved considerably in recent years, they still end up adding to a soldier’s load. “The development of these wearable solar cells will now allow soldiers to generate power in the field and reduce the need for batteries for their electronic devices,” Skryabin said. “They will also establish a power supply that keeps electronic devices operational throughout the duration of missions.”

ANU said the key to these wearable solar panels is a technology developed at the university, called “SLIVER,” which is now being used in commercial applications by Transform Solar. With this technology, cells “have the same thickness of a sheet of paper or a human hair,” according to project Chief Investigator Andrew Blakers. “This means they are flexible, lightweight and allow high power to weight ratios to be achieved. The cells are also bifacial, allowing modules to be constructed that allow light to be absorbed from both faces.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.