Battery life is a crucial issue on any portable device drawing power - from cell phones to something as big as a car. Of course, the larger the battery, the more it weighs. Structural batteries which store power in the parts that make up the device are seen as a solution to this issue and BAE systems is working on such systems with the aim of lightening the load for frontline soldiers.
BAE Systems is developing structural batteries for both military and consumer applications including chargeable components for a Le Mans prototype race car. This is accomplished by merging battery chemistry into composite materials that can be molded into complex 3D shapes that form the structure of a device. The structure can be plugged in to recharge, then provide power to the device in a manner similar to a traditional battery.
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For the military, BAE is developing structural batteries as components of the electronic gear in soldiers' rucksacks, which can currently weigh up to 76 kilograms (167 lbs). This approach would eliminate the need for traditional batteries, which add to the weight in the bag.
Structural batteries can also be used in addition to traditional batteries to provide longer run time without adding to the weight of a particular device.
BAE Systems currently exploits nickel-based battery chemistry to power its structural batteries. The company is looking into integration of lithium-ion and lithium-polymer chemistry for use in consumer electronics, as well demonstrating the ability to store useful energy in composites such as carbon fiber and glass-reinforced plastic.
Future applications might include fabric, which expands applications from hard-structured objects to more lightweight applications such as tents, or even the rucksacks carried by soldiers - as opposed to just the electronic gear carried within them.
Beyond the military, BAE is working with race car manufacturer Lola to use structural batteries to power some of the on-board electronic systems for the zero-emission, 850 horsepower Le Mans prototype car, the Lola-Drayson B12/69EV.
BAE Systems is not the only research organization working with structural batteries. For instance, researcher Emile Greenhalgh at Imperial College London has been working to build a car constructed from structural batteries for several years - more information on that project can be found in the video below.
Source: BAE Systems