Solar soldiers advancing

Friday, 11 July, 2008

Australian defence personnel may be able to generate enough electricity to power their gear via new solar technology embedded in their uniforms and equipment, now that ANU researchers have won a major defence contract.

Prof Andrew Blakers and his colleagues from the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at ANU have won $2.1 million in Defence CTD funding to develop very thin, flexible and efficient solar cells for security and defense applications.

Capability and Technology Demonstrator contracts are distributed by the Department of Defence for projects that demonstrate how technology might enhance defence capability in novel ways.

The technology being pioneered could be incorporated into consumer devices like iPods or mobile phones and even clothing.

The lightweight transportable solar panels will be further application of SLIVER cell technology — invented by Prof Blakers and Dr Klaus Webber at ANU — which is currently being commercialised by Origin Energy.

These needle-thin photovoltaic cells use much less silicon than traditional cells as a result of production techniques that maximise the surface area of the wafers.

For a traditional solar panel, about 10 kg is needed of expensive hyperpure silicon to generate 1 kW. A SLIVER panel requires less than 1 kg of silicon per kW. 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.

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