Soldiers to be solar powered

a thin trasnportable Sliver cell

Australian soldiers will be able to wear and carry new solar technology embedded uniforms and gears, now that researchers at Australian National University (ANU) have won a major defence contract.

The Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSES) at ANU has received $2.1 million in defence funding to develop micro-thin and flexible solar energy panels for security applications.

Professor Andrew Blakers, who leads the project team, said: “We’re very excited about this possibility to extend solar power technology into portable and wearable applications.

“Defence personnel tend to spend a lot of time in the field, so it makes sense that they should tap into the abundant and renewable energy available from the sun. The technology will help defence reduce its reliance on batteries.”

The needle-thin transportable solar cells will be a further expansion of the SLIVER cell technology, pioneered by Prof Blakers and Dr Klaus Webber at ANU, which can cut production costs and enhance power-generation efficiencies by maximising the surface area of the silicon wafers.

“For a state-of-the-art traditional solar panel you need about 10 kilograms of this expensive hyperpure silicon to generate one kilowatt of power. A SLIVER panel requires less than one kilogram of silicon per kilowatt,” Prof Blakers said.

“In addition, there is a huge saving in wafer processing, because the number of wafers that need to be processed per kilowatt is reduced by up to 60-fold with the SLIVER cell process.”

Prof Blakers said the applicability of the research can go beyond defence, by incorporating it into portable consumer devices such as mobile phones as well as clothing.

The SLIVER cell technology is being commercialised by Origin Energy, investing more than $20 million in the construction of a demonstration plant in Adelaide.

Photo Courtesy of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems

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