The Army is bringing to the battlefield flexible plastic sheeting that converts light into energy — technology that could someday find its way into the casing of laptops or even clothing to power portable devices.
Konarka Technologies Inc. has signed a $1.6 million contract with the Army, which hopes to lighten the load for troops who must lug around batteries to power everything from night vision goggles to GPS units.
Troops could recharge devices by connecting them with energy-converting plastic sheets, replacing disposable batteries and easing logistical requirements in remote settings, according to the Army's Natick-based Soldier Systems Center.
The sheeting also could be woven into sunlight-soaking tents, reducing the need for diesel fuel for noisy, polluting generators.
Lowell-based Konarka is among the developers of next-generation photovoltaic technology that seeks to improve on rigid, glass-panel solar cells. Advances in semiconducting materials allow for lower-cost production of lightweight solar cells that can be woven into plastics and textiles — including camouflage-patterned materials Konarka is developing for the Army.
Konarka is working with partners on commercial applications, said Daniel Patrick McGahn, an executive vice president. He offered no predictions when such products would reach the market.