In an effort to reduce the energy supply needs and lessen the risks of U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) forward deployed forces, researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have prototyped and are field-testing one solution: A mobile solar power pack, with high efficiency, flexible solar cells coupled to a high capacity rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack.
The MSP prototype uses an array of single-junction solar cells, along with a power conditioning circuit to maximize power production. When in use, the solar array opens to 150 square inches of collection area, which in turn charges a standard military issue Li-ion battery. The device fits in a standard USMC backpack.
"One of the most significant challenges currently facing the Marine Corps is the need to supply sufficient electricity to individual Marines in forward operating bases. Mobile photovoltaics are a technology that can address these needs by leveraging emerging, flexible, high efficiency photovoltaic technology." - Robert Walters, NRL Solid State Devices Branch
The device is being developed by the NRL in collaboration with the USMC Expeditionary Energy Office (E2O), MicroLink Devices, and Design Intelligence Incorporated. Field tests are still underway, but the initial data shows that the MSP has promise for a viable portable power solution for expeditionary forces.
The solar pack is just one piece in the USMC Expeditionary Energy Strategy, which seeks to increase the efficiency of the organization's operational power needs in the field through both reducing the demand for energy and deploying alternative energy production on site. The net effect of these strategies is expected to cut the amount fuel consumed per Marine per day by 50%, as well as reducing the total weight of batteries carried in the field by almost 200,000 pounds.