However, times have changed. Energy efficiency and conservation is at the top of many lists. These lists not only belong to environmental advocates, but also major corporations, industrial facilities, and even the U.S.
The Army is so concerned over energy availability and efficiency, it has focused a great deal of time an effort into its research. As a result, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) has made great strides in the field of Energy Scavenging.
What Is Energy Scavenging?
Energy Scavenging is a technique that utilizes the ambient energy from the environment to convert it into a useable form that could power electronics or other devices. So instead of using the types of batteries that we are used to, Linear Technology, states:
“A more effective wireless power solution may be to harvest ambient mechanical, thermal, or electro-magnetic energy in the sensor’s local environment.” (1)
Some examples of this ambient energy are solar, wind, body heat, and even compression. Research into Energy Scavenging is a relatively new; nevertheless, the Army knew, like other researchers in the field, to efficiently utilize this ambient energy they needed a battery to “harvest” and store it.
Just like when harvesting wheat, energy harvesting requires a tool are even a machine to do so. The tool to use to harvest ambient energy depends on the type of ambient energy being harvested. According to the Institute of Physics:
“There are several promising microscale energy harvesting materials (including ceramics, single crystals, polymers and composites) and technologies currently being developed.” (2)
These materials are broken into three broad categories: Piezoelectric materials (mechanical stress into electricity), Thermoelectric materials (heat differentials into electricity), and Pyroelectric materials (changing temperature into electricity).
Even though these are great advances in Energy Scavenging, there still needs to be an efficient battery to store the energy harvested. The Army is convinced that they are on to it.
Where Will the Future Lead?
ARL is planning to couple the harvesting technologies with high-efficiency batteries to provide soldiers the electricity needed while on the battlefield. Dr. Edward Shaffer, the Energy and Power Division Chief, alluded to such a battery in a press release:
“ARL electrochemists discovered a way to increase the duration of high-energy batteries with an electrolyte additive.” (3)
Even though he did not expand upon that particular comment, research has been ongoing across the globe to find an additive for the Lithium Ion battery, a battery that is known not to carry a charge well or even worse, explode. One such additive would be a solid one to prevent leaking, burning, and distorting the internal structure. (4)
ARL’s hopes are to be able to couple the technologies into Army project Smart Battlefield Energy on-Demand (SmartBED). According to Shaffer:
“SmartBED is designed to improve energy capacity for Soldiers while they are at base camp or otherwise on the move.”(3)
The idea behind SmartBED is that soldiers could use some handheld method of harvesting the ambient energy and quickly convert it to electricity either at base camp or on the battlefield. However, this is not solely an Army project; they have partnered with a number research facilities and corporations to expedite the research and development process.
It seems that the Army is on the verge of a major breakthrough in harvesting and storing ambient energy. If so, then armies would have easy access to a near-limitless source of power. However, what is even more promising is that developments from Army research and development often trickles down to the civilian sector.