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'Hybridisation' tech to quintuple battery life

DARPA seeks box-o-lotso energy goodening gear

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Most of us these days find battery life an annoying issue, as our increasingly puissant personal gadgetry uses juice faster and faster. Few, however, find batteries as troublesome as modern-day soldiers do - burdened as they are with lasers, optics, radios, monocle displays and other electronic paraphernalia.

Adding insult to injury for the overburdened modern grunt - who must also hump a crippling load of armour, weapons, ammo and water - is the fact that batteries generally don't live up to their full potential in actual service use. In fact, according to the renowned Pentagon brainiac-breeding bureau DARPA, it's common for war-ware to achieve endurance of "as little as 20% of theoretical capability. This operational inefficiency increases the number of batteries soldiers must carry in the field".

What's the use of inventing brilliant new technology for soldiers if they can't lift all the batteries needed to keep it running, after all? (DARPA was behind much of the nightsight tech now commonly found attached to soldiers' helmets and weapons, for instance).

Thus it is that the military boffins have decided to launch a new project, named Limits Of Thermodynamic Storage (LOTS) of Energy. This isn't intended so much to produce radical new energy storage technologies, as to wring all the juice out of existing battery kit. According to DARPA:

The program seeks to address inefficiencies in energy extraction by developing technologies that are capable of delivering the full expected run time out of a [state of the art] portable energy source.

All possible approaches, and combinations of approaches, will be considered including, but not limited to:

• hybridization via discrete components within the form factor of the energy source (e.g.: packaged electrochemical capacitor plus packaged battery)

• innate hybridization via development of multi-functional electrochemical cells (e.g.: a cell with both capacitive and faradaic energy storage functions)

• performance optimization via use of power management circuits

The idea is that initial LOTS-o-Energy devices will use the military X590 form factor, which is essentially a box which can hold ten D-cells. DARPA's chosen contractor will make such a box which will contain batteries as well as the new magic that causes them to actually give up all their juice, rather than spuriously flatlining while still crammed with energy as they now tend to.

Of course there are many other ways such kit could be useful. One of the most common problems in engineering is getting a prime mover or energy source to deliver that energy to a task efficiently. DARPA say that X590 goodened-up batteries are just the beginning: they would expect to use the same miracle-tech with other power sources such as fuel cells or stirling engines.

As with some other DARPA notions, this one has excellent potential to benefit all of humanity as well as just US troops. Well, that part of humanity which likes gadgets, anyway. ®

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