According to researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), one of the Marine Corps’ most significant challenges is finding a way to provide reliable electricity to soldiers in forward operating bases. Like the rest of us, the U.S. military is desperate for ways to reduce its fuel and battery consumption. It’s widely recognized that solar panels are one of the only technologies that can provide a portable, affordable source of power to those on the front lines.

NRL, in collaboration with MicroLink Devices, Design Intelligence Incorporated and the USMC Expeditionary Energy Office (E2O), have developed and prototyped a new photovoltaic system to meet the unique needs of USMC Expeditionary Power for robust, high-efficiency solar panels suitable for adaptation to rechargeable batteries in the field.

The mobile solar power (MSP) prototype consists of single-junction cells arranged in a 150 square-inch flexible solar panel, according to a recent release. The array comes complete with a power conditioning circuit that can be used to charge a standard, military issue, high capacity rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The solar panel will be covered in traditional Marine drab, and can be rolled up in to a tube and attached to the soldier’s pack, similar to how one could carry a sleeping roll.

Flexible solar cells with light to electricity conversion efficiency as high as 30 percent have been demonstrated in multi-cell panels and although field tests are still in progress, initial modeling, simulation, and experimentation of the flexible array have shown considerable promise, producing more than 11 Watts per 1-sun air mass (AM) 1.5 illumination.

If successful, the MSP and other renewable energy alternatives could reduce fuel consumed, per Marine, per day, by 50 percent and reduce total weight of batteries carried by nearly 200 thousand pounds.