Battery breakthrough could help soldiers on the frontline

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Scientists at BAE Systems have demonstrated a 'revolutionary' method for storing electricity that could provide a crucial advantage to soldiers on the frontline.

The defence giant's so-called structural batteries are designed to lighten the load of soldiers carrying rucksacks, which can weigh up to 76kg and be filled with numerous electrical items. The batteries store the electrical energy within the physical structure of a device and thus help to reduce or eliminate the need for traditional batteries, which create weight and bulk, as well as the burden and cost of carrying spares. BAE believes the potential scope for the technology is limitless. The benefits for the defence sector, it says, have already been demonstrated in a high tech micro unmanned air vehicle, as well as a rudimentary torch. To demonstrate the technology's application beyond the battlefield, BAE has also applied the technology through a partnership with leading race car manufacturer Lola. The Lola-Drayson B12/69EV, zero emission 850 horsepower Le Mans Prototype car will incorporate structural batteries to power some of the on-board electronic systems. Upon completion, the Lola-Drayson B12/69EV aims to become the world's fastest electric racing car. Alex Parfitt, capability technology leader for materials at BAE said: "Structural batteries can be used in virtually anything that requires electricity, from small gadgets to entire vehicles. It can not only support our soldiers on the frontline, but also revolutionise technology in the consumer market by allowing more efficient, elegant and lighter designs." To develop the technology, the scientists merged battery chemistries into composite materials before moulding them into complex 3D shapes to form the structure of the device itself. According to BAE, the device could then be plugged in when it needed recharging or utilise renewable power sources, such as solar energy. The process makes use of nickel-based battery chemistries, which are commonly used in defence technology. It is thought that future developments will allow integration of Li-ion and Li-Polymer chemistries found in consumer electronic products such as mobile phones, MP3 players, laptops, tablets and portable games. BAE says this will not only lead to improved product designs, but eliminate the need for consumers to ever buy batteries again. Parfitt concluded: "Current developments have demonstrated the ability to store useful energy in composites such as carbon fibre and glass reinforced plastic, but in the future it could also be incorporated into fabric for a wide range of lightweight applications, from tents with their own power supply to making electric blankets a literal reality."