On January 30, military experts agreed that more efficient portable power sources are critical in order to lighten the load of soldiers and Marines. The Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is currently designing and testing fuel cells for missions.
While the DoD recognizes the individual combatant’s value, the focus has often been on big systems such as missiles, radars, and vehicles, and not in-the-field equipment for dismounted troops. Now, DoD is hoping to get fuel cells into real missions in the field.
Making soldier’s packs and equipment high-energy efficiency through design is one way to lighten the load. Eliminating the need for multiple batteries is another way to limit the weight of the gear a soldier wears. Wireless charging is also necessary so that soldiers no longer have to carry around wires to connect gear to power sources, a cumbersome and heavy task.
DARPA has begun testing fuel cells for various missions and has demonstrated a fly-time increase for small unmanned aerial vehicles. Given the results, DARPA is hoping fuel cells may be an idea way to charge portable electronics. The solid oxide fuel cell with which DARPA is working is a cross between an engine and a battery. Rather than burn energy, it uses a chemical reaction with hydrocarbons to remove electrons from fuel.
Using magnetic fields, DARPA also hopes to charge gear. These magnetic fields would only be able to charge devices within a few centimeters of the source, but studies have shown that there is a 90% efficient power transfer. Essentially, this creates a power hotspot around the solder that then powers gear and equipment.
Experts agree that soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines use power at an incredibly high rate when down range and in the field, so determining more efficient energy sources that also help make the jobs of the men and women in the field is critical.