xTech Innovation Combine winners pose with General Mike Murray, Commanding General, Army Futures Command.
xTech Innovation Combine winners pose with General Mike Murray, Commanding General, Army Futures Command. (Photo Credit: Photo credit Sarah Merriweather) VIEW ORIGINAL

The Army continues to explore new and creative ways to improve how the U.S. military resources, stores and utilizes energy, a sometimes pricey but undeniably essential commodity both on and off the battlefield.

In an effort to invigorate research and development on the topic, the Army recently sponsored a competition that awarded cash prizes and contracts to scientists and engineers who offered the best proposals for improved energy storage.

The competition, named the xTech Innovation Combine, asked for technology innovations that reimagined the military-grade battery, which has traditionally been a relatively heavy and bulky lithium-ion model.

Six finalists from around the country pitched their projects during the Army’s July 21 to 22 Advanced Technology Summit, which was hosted by Army modernization partner the University of Texas at Austin.

Ideas presented included preserving the traditional battery shape but making the battery itself more powerful and longer-lasting; creating improved energy-density batteries that can be shaped around the products they power; developing a universal application to monitor and adjust battery performance; shifting to lightweight and energy-dense zinc-air batteries that can attach to the exterior of a product like a Band-Aid; improving lithium plating to produce safer, more cost-effective batteries; and making a thin, malleable battery that can be twisted, punctured and even cut in half and put back together while maintaining functionality.

The Army, through the Army Applications Laboratory and other avenues, is also considering ways to integrate more electric vehicle or hybrid vehicle options into its future fleet. It plans to introduce electric innovations at a smaller, tactical vehicle level before scaling to combat vehicles and heavier machines, which may initially require a hybrid approach to electrification. The potential benefits of electrification include cost savings, decreased reliance on non-renewable energy sources and the ability to create military vehicles that can operate more silently and therefore more stealthily.

The Army hopes that near-future energy innovations such as battery improvements and electrification advances will decrease the need for frequent vehicle fueling and refueling, as well as make for a more nimble and lethal fighting force.