Army explores new technology to charge troops on the go

Army explores new technology to charge troops on the go

Army explores new technology to charge troops on the go

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The Army is looking for new technology that harvests energy from a variety of sources — from heat from a soldier’s body to fuel already widely used in service — to power troops on the go.

The Army envisions a future in which soldiers carry more high-tech equipment that requires batteries or other power sources.

At the same time, the service is preparing to transition from a large logistical footprint to operating in more distributed formations, said Lt. Col. John Villasinor, director of concept and leadership for the Army’s Operational Energy Strategy, which is being formulated by the Army Futures Command. .

Depending on the capabilities developed by potential competitors, the military needs to dismantle larger groups of soldiers and dismantle large equipment that will be easy targets and likely to be destroyed, Villasinor said.

“When I break that down, there are a lot of things we have to update as well,” Villasinor added. “My sustainability infrastructure has to be able to adapt with this capacity to support what I would consider a giant spider web, where the units are running so small I still have to get them…supplies.”

He said how to operate the individual soldier will be addressed in the Operational Energy Strategy – due for release by the end of 2022 – along with a slew of additional measures aimed at improving energy use for the service with more efficient, diversified and sustainable sources. .

In the meantime, the industry is making strides in ways to collect and generate next-generation energy. The companies work with the Department of Defense and independently to mature their technologies into products that are useful to the soldier.

Industry members gathered in April at the Army’s VERTEX Energy Conference in Austin, Texas to discuss their innovative technologies with service leaders dealing with Soldier Power.

One potential opportunity for the military is thermoelectric power, said Douglas Tham, chief technology officer of Silicon Valley-based MATRIX Industries.

Thermoelectric generators can convert the temperature difference between two points into electricity. When the generator is placed on something warm — such as an M1 Abrams motor or the skin of a soldier — the electrons travel from the hot side to the cold side of the device to generate an electric current.

He said the company has developed technology that uses small temperature differences to produce self-sustaining thermal energy and power electronics.

“This is one of the big sectors that we are really targeting – to take the latest and greatest in sensing technologies and algorithms that are really low-power… and reduce energy consumption to the point where even small amounts of energy harvesting can last,” he said.

This technology could augment the military’s current efforts to improve the life of batteries used to power equipment. An average soldier carries five to eight different batteries during missions, Villasinor said.

“If you’re talking about redundant operations for extended operations, he’s carrying huge batteries, so you’re also talking about a lot of weight,” he added. According to an Army press release, the 72-hour mission may require a soldier to carry 20 pounds of batteries.

But if the service is going to use thermoelectric generators to collect power from a continuous heat source, such as a soldier’s body heat, “we can either get rid of the entire battery or reduce it to such a small degree that it’s basically just a capacitor to mitigate some of the surge in consumption,” Tham said.

He noted that the technology has already entered the commercial sector, but the company is working with the Army, Navy and Marine Corps to make it usable by fighters who need power on the go.

Jerry Joshi, chief scientist at Nanohmics Inc. In Austin, Texas, there are still hurdles the industry must overcome before a self-sufficient soldier on the battlefield becomes a reality.

“The main challenge is when you see body temperature and outside temperature, that’s a big gap, but our skin isn’t a conductor of electricity,” Joshi explained. As a result, wearables rarely find a large enough difference in temperature to generate enough power, he said.

Another problem is increasing the efficiency of wearable thermoelectric generators. In future operating environments, soldiers will likely rely on many electronic devices that need continuous power, including communication systems, night vision devices, weapons, and condition-awareness devices such as the Nett Warrior or the upcoming Integrated Optical Enhancement System, according to the service.

“Right now, we’re seeing less than 5 watts on a soldier. That would still give you the ability to extract insights from hundreds of sensors,” said Josh Segroves, chief technology officer of Parasanti in Austin, Texas. He noted that progress has also been made in reducing the power consumption of next-generation devices used by soldiers.

Using a wearable with maximum efficiency, a single soldier can harvest about 100 watts. However, the technology’s efficiency is not yet there, Joshi said.

Tham Joshi echoed, also noting that the efficiency would never approach 100 watts.

To address this, MATRIX Industries has ramped up the sensor systems it uses to generate power to be able to consume both microwatts and milliwatts, he said.

“This is where you can really start to make a difference in the life of your sensory system,” he said.
To convert thermoelectric generators into wearable power sources, Joshi said, more studies should be conducted outside of system-wide engineering.

“Thermal technology is a fairly mature technology. The only thing that has not been well studied is how to do it [best] System design”.

Specifically, the efficiency of thermoelectric generators could be improved by working on engineering materials for devices at the nanoscale, said Shannon Sentell, chief operating officer of Stealth Power, a hybrid power supplier in Austin, Texas.

“This is where I believe we, as an industry, can pool our resources…together and make that leap,” Sentell said. “If we can do it [difference in temperatures] Better between two substances, then you will see how much [heat flow] Step up so that you can withdraw from these devices.”

This does not mean that thermoelectric devices cannot use other heat sources to collect energy for other applications.
MATRIX Industries also uses its energy harvesting technology to detect temperature changes in topsoil during the day and night.

Tham said the energy from this temperature difference could be used to power unattended remote monitoring systems that detect the vibrations of people, animals or vehicles crossing an area.

As with wearables, the thermoelectric generator would allow the monitoring system to operate itself and remove the need for soldiers to travel to replace batteries.

Joshi added that thermoelectric devices can also be used to power independent local sensors, but batteries may still be needed to compensate for fluctuations in temperature gradients. However, it will extend the battery life for a much longer time.

As wearable thermoelectric technology matures, other members of the industry are focusing their efforts on utilizing fuel sources in the military’s existing logistics chain to supply portable power.

Veronica Stelmach, chief executive of Massachusetts-based Mesodyne, said the Army has been looking at solutions to expand soldiers’ power for years — from solar and wind power to improved fuel cells.

At Mesodyne, they created a small, portable generator called the LightCell that takes advantage of thermo-photovoltaic cells, which convert the heat given off by light into electricity.

A generator takes any type of fuel and uses it to heat a substance that begins to glow. The light emitted by the material is then converted into electricity by a photovoltaic cell, Stelmach said.

The result is 10 times more energy dense than standard batteries used for small systems, including those carried by soldiers or those powering drones and surface ships, she said.

Ultra-lightweight and the size of a water bottle, Stelmakh said, the LightCell will help reduce the equipment load carried by troops.

LightCell can also use any type of fuel to start the energy conversion process, including Jet Propelant-8 fuel used globally by the US military. Stelmakh said that the use of fuel already on the battlefield is a huge advantage.

The company was originally funded by the military, and has received more than $5 million in grants from the Air Force, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation for technology research and development.

Stelmakh said they recently partnered with a major defense chief to continue work on making LightCell a viable product for the fighter. One of the biggest concerns now is to reduce the heat the generator produces during the conversion process.

Similarly, modern electronics is developing a device called a thermal converter. The device is also capable of producing electricity using fuel, but uses energy using the heat it emits rather than light, said Max Mankin, the company’s chief technology officer.

“You can imagine taking one of these heater-to-energy devices that can accept heat from any fuel as long as it’s hot, spreading it around in a little box… bringing that with you in the field, using it to recharge the batteries, using it to power some equipment remotely—whatever is needed. “.

The company works to lower the operating temperature and increase the energy density and efficiency of the device.

Mankin said that as Modern Electrics tries to break into the defense sector, supply constraints on key materials for its converter have presented a challenge to the small company.

“The majority of the battery manufacturing infrastructure and mineral processing infrastructure are located outside the United States,” he said. “Most of these parts, if we are to make them cost-effective, have to be machined or stamped on the outside.”

Tham agreed that supply chain problems could cause serious development problems, and that it was difficult to find substitutes for outside suppliers when the industry’s main supply center for decades was China.

One solution, he said, could be to continue to allow production of key materials abroad, but to move the final assembly of the product to the United States.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on in the final assembly,” Tham explained. “Bringing it to land at least allows you to get the last bit of control.”

Although energy harvesting and power generation technology won’t be available to the military in the near future, Tham encouraged the service to continue open conversations with industry about the limitations of today’s batteries and what the military wants to see in the future.

“Let us in the industry try to be your eyes and ears and try to help you see the connections and overlaps between our business paths and your long-term goals,” he said. “If we can find a path to map our commercial tech trees to yours, I think that’s to the benefit of everyone.”

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