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SIlver Cell construction (via The Autralian NAtional University)


Soldiers carry a lot of weight. With radios, night-vision devices, flashlights, communication systems, ammunition, and other basic supplies the weight approaches the point of hurting the person carrying it all. In fact, major-general of the Australian army said, "It's not good for a soldier's back to be carrying that much weight."


One area that can benefit from advancing technology has been the size of the electronics and the power systems. In the distant past, communications were powered by heavy lead-acid batteries. Later came lighter weight battery packs that have been getting smaller and more energy dense every year. The progress does not stop here. The Australian army is testing the possible use of lightweight solar panels, eliminating the need for any large battery pack.


The new solar cells are a bit different than standard silicon based panels. Called "Silver Cells," the panel arranges the photovoltaic elements in thinly sliced pieces, vertically, in a silicon frame. The cells use 90% less silicon than other mono crystalline cells of equivalent output. In other words, the costs are lower.


The elements are 50 to 100mm long, 1 - 2mm wide, and 45micrometers thick. Both sides of the element can absorb light. Due to the bifacial response of the Silver cell, the optimal angles are increased. And the cells work well on curved surfaces. Open circuit voltage of the cell is in the 600 - 700mV range. Connected in series or parallel, for whatever voltage the application needs, the cells are capable of 140 Watts per square meter.


The plan is to cover soldier's helmets, tents, and clothing. Testing will be conducted over a few years before acceptance for true field use. What they will soon discover is that the reflective nature of solar panels will not be good for concealing soldiers or objects. Much like flashing the sun off a mirror at your enemies. I would imagine a whole group of soldiers would look like they are sparkling. Not the most intimidating look out there.