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U.S. Army Seeks Energy-producing Tent Fabrics

In an effort to further reduce the logistics burdens of fossil fuel power on future battlefields, the U.S. Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) has requested concept papers from industry and academia for fault-tolerant photovoltaic (PV) textiles for military applications that possess true three-dimensional flexibility, and the potential for large-scale format manufacturability. The textiles are envisioned for use in tents, fabric shelters/structures, and other energy-collection surfaces in future contingency operations.

The service vision sees that deployed Army small-unit elements would not only benefit from a reduced logistics burden but also from “an alternative energy source that ultimately would be virtually indistinguishable from traditional textiles. Such an alternative energy source is envisioned to be able supplement existing energy-storage media and potentially fully support low-power electronic loads for select mission sets. This, in turn, would reduce the need for carrying extra batteries, and replace other alternative fuel-based energy generators [e.g., fuel cells, etc.] that require non-standard fuels.”

Noting that Army shelters and soldier systems “require power and energy in order to meet the physical and operational needs of the supported warfighter,” the recent NSRDEC sources sought announcement stresses that “a renewable source of energy that performs this mission has become a crucial issue in the area of rapidly deployable shelter technologies.”

Generators

Generators for the 66th Military Intelligence Brigade Training Support Center Wiesbaden’s Linthem Sand Dune training area, Germany, March 19, 2013. U.S. Army base camps currently have to use heavy generators and batteries to supply power. This could change if academia and industry develop fault-tolerant photovoltaic (PV) textiles. U.S. Army photo by Dee Crawford

“Power is currently supplied to fielded Army base camps through the use of heavy unit-driven generators and batteries,” it states, adding, “The characteristics of these power sources create high monetary and logistical costs.”

Unique ideas are sought “to develop a PV textile for use in both large format application such as Army shelters, and smaller applications such as small unit alternative energy collection in the field.”

The service vision sees that deployed Army small-unit elements would not only benefit from a reduced logistics burden but also from “an alternative energy source that ultimately would be virtually indistinguishable from traditional textiles. Such an alternative energy source is envisioned to be able supplement existing energy-storage media and potentially fully support low-power electronic loads for select mission sets. This, in turn, would reduce the need for carrying extra batteries, and replace other alternative fuel-based energy generators [e.g., fuel cells, etc.] that require non-standard fuels.”

While acknowledging that current NSRDEC efforts “have produced photovoltaic module integrated textile designs, to include PV integrated with military solar shades, and military tentage,” the request for new concept papers “seeks to move beyond that level of integration to true power-producing textiles where the individual components of the textile would be of a photovoltaic nature, and the design of the textile would allow for collection of the electric charge from those individual components.”

Unique ideas are sought “to develop a PV textile for use in both large format application such as Army shelters, and smaller applications such as small unit alternative energy collection in the field.”

Tent

Durable and flexible solar shade panels are connected and readied for deployment at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, June 2, 2011. While the U.S. Army already operates photovoltaic module integrated textile designs, the new effort seeks to go beyond that and develop a true power-producing textile. U.S. Army photo

Desired capabilities and characteristics of the new PV textile include:

  • long-term environmental stability in both stowed and deployed conditions;
  • rugged construction that mimics existing military tentage and soldier textiles;
  • design-inherent fault-tolerant energy harvesting with minimal degradation from external events that may damage the textile (e.g., punctures, minor tears, etc.);
  • compact format for shipment/transport;
  • flame-retardant or fire-proof;
  • durability to operate in a variety of extreme environments and terrains found across the globe;
  • capable of repair in the field;
  • upward scalability to support large format manufacturing, and;
  • decontamination and cleansing capable.

The announcement adds, “As with all expeditionary Army systems, factors such as weight and cube should be considered and minimized. Additionally, Environment Protection Agency (EPA) regulations should be taken into consideration in the selection of materials and end of life disposal of the system.”

Interested parties are encouraged to submit their concept papers to NSRDEC by Aug. 30, 2013.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...