Canadian military looking for lighter batteries

Government contract seeks wearable battery design to lighten soldier’s weight load.

Comments Off on Canadian military looking for lighter batteries February 13, 2012
by Canadian Press

Ottawa — The Energizer Bunny may keep going and going on a single battery, but Canadian troops need a lot more juice. Soldiers on patrol lug dozens of batteries for their night-vision goggles, radios and other electronic gear. The batteries weigh down a soldier’s already heavy burden.

Now the military wants to lighten the load. A notice posted recently on a website that advertises government contracts seeks firms to design a wearable power supply that soldiers can plug their equipment into.

“It is (the Department of National Defence’s) vision that the new, more holistic approach success resides in the ability to develop a low-weight, energy-efficient backbone for data and power exchange upon which soldiers can easily plug in mission specific devices,” the document says.

The notice says dismounted soldiers carry up to 45 batteries to power their portable devices, weighing about 11 pounds, which adds to “increased fatigue and reduced mobility of dismounted soldiers.”

Often only about a third to half a battery’s life is used before it is thrown away as a precautionary measure, a contract document says.

“The early disposal of batteries is also a financial and ecological waste,” it says. “This waste places an unnecessary strain on the expeditionary force logistics support. As technology evolves, the future energy demands will increase as capabilities are added to soldier portable devices. The energy demand and its associated weight penalty will be very difficult to sustain using the current approach.”

Future military uniforms may be woven from electrified materials such as this flexible battery fabric developed by Maksim Skorobogatiy and his colleagues at the Polytechnic School of Montreal.

The government plans to spend up to $3.9 million to develop the power suits, the document says.

The British Ministry of Defence is doing similar research. One idea under consideration in Britain is using nylon yarns coated in silver to make bullet-proof vests that connect to a central battery pack.

Canada’s military has for years been looking for a solution the battery problem.

A 2009 study for the Defence Department pegged the cost of giving all Canadian troops in Afghanistan enough juice for a standard six-month deployment at up to $1 million.

It looked for better alternatives to the AA battery, but came up empty-handed.

The study, which the Toronto Star first reported on, also found normal alkaline batteries are almost useless in the North, where the cold quickly saps their power. For this reason, the Arctic Rangers use costlier lithium batteries, which work better in cold weather.

The Defence Department referred questions to Defence Research and Development Canada, which declined comment.

“In order for DRDC to remain neutral throughout the bidding process, the Agency is unable to answer your questions at this time,“ spokeswoman Marie-Helene Brisson said in an email.
© 2012 The Canadian Press