Marines May Soon Carry Solar Backpacks

According to researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), one of the Marine Corps’ most significant challenges is finding a way to provide reliable electricity to soldiers in forward operating bases. Like the rest of us, the U.S. military is desperate for ways to reduce its fuel and batter consumption. It’s widely recognized that solar panels are one of the only technologies that can provide a portable, affordable source of power to those on the front lines.

NRL, in collaboration with MicroLink Devices, Design Intelligence Incorporated and the USMC Expeditionary Energy Office (E2O), have developed and prototyped a new photovoltaic system to meet the unique needs of USMC Expeditionary Power for robust, high-efficiency solar panels suitable for adaptation to rechargeable batteries in the field.

USMC Solar Pack

image via U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

The mobile solar power (MSP) prototype consists of single-junction cells arranged in a 150 square-inch flexible solar panel, according to a recent release. The array comes complete with a power conditioning circuit that can be used to charge a standard, military issue, high capacity rechargeable lithium-ion battery.  The solar panel will be covered in traditional Marine drab, and can be rolled up in to a tube and attached to the soldier’s pack, similar to how one could carry a sleeping roll.

Flexible solar cells with light to electricity conversion efficiency as high as 30 percent have been demonstrated in multi-cell panels and although field tests are still in progress, initial modeling, simulation, and experimentation of the flexible array have shown considerable promise, producing more than 11 Watts per 1-sun air mass (AM) 1.5 illumination.

If successful, the MSP and other renewable energy alternatives could reduce fuel consumed, per Marine, per day, by 50 percent and reduce total weight of batteries carried by nearly 200 thousand pounds.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

    • http://yrihf.com John Bailo

      Military is also advancing hydrogen fuel cells.

      Heavy obsolete batteries won’t cut it for Army duty.

    • Tom Setter

      They work well. I sent one to Buloba,Tanzania yrs ago. Good for charging batteries to run LED lights in the Village so children could read at night.

    • E5Charlie

      As an infantry Marine, how much will this actually weight in my pack? The 86 pounds and crew served weapon I carry are enough, trust me.

      • Pete

        Good question, E5Charlie. David Roberts wrote an excellent piece for Outside not long ago that told about a Marine unit using not this system, but the Spaces system, in Afghanistan. With that, at least, they found going solar actually lightened loads:

        “During field operations away
        from the patrol base, each Marine also carried a solar portable alternative
        communications energy system (Spaces), an 64 square-inch flexible solar panel
        lightweight enough (about 2.5 pounds) to be rolled up and stowed in a pack.
        Normally, a patrol carries enough batteries to last three or four days—20 to 35
        pounds for each grunt—and is dependent on frequent and dangerous resupplies.
        But with the packable solar panels, says Patterson, his patrol of 35 soldiers
        shed 700 pounds. “We stayed out for three weeks and didn’t need a battery
        resupply once,” he says.”Link to Outside magazine piece:http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/natural-intelligence/Natural-Intelligence-Charge.html?page=all Thanks for your comment,Pete Danko

      • Pete

        Good question, E5Charlie. David Roberts wrote an excellent piece for Outside not long ago that told about a Marine unit using not this system, but the Spaces system, in Afghanistan. With that, at least, they found going solar actually lightened loads:

        “During field operations away
        from the patrol base, each Marine also carried a solar portable alternative
        communications energy system (Spaces), an 64 square-inch flexible solar panel
        lightweight enough (about 2.5 pounds) to be rolled up and stowed in a pack.
        Normally, a patrol carries enough batteries to last three or four days—20 to 35
        pounds for each grunt—and is dependent on frequent and dangerous resupplies.
        But with the packable solar panels, says Patterson, his patrol of 35 soldiers
        shed 700 pounds. “We stayed out for three weeks and didn’t need a battery
        resupply once,” he says.”Link to Outside magazine piece:http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/natural-intelligence/Natural-Intelligence-Charge.html?page=all Thanks for your comment,Pete Danko