Lithium batteries are still the choice to power manpack military gear

Sept. 10, 2008
 Product intelligence -- The digital battlefield and net-centric warfare are putting pressure on li ion battery power for manpack communications equipment, hand-held computers, navigation gear, and more. Battery designers are had at work to accommodate the latest versions of military electronic devices.

By John KellerBy John Keller

The digital battlefield and network-centric warfare are putting a premium on the value of lithium batteries to power manpack communications equipment, hand-held computers, navigation gear, and more. Battery manufacturers and distributors are had at work to accommodate the latest versions of electronic combat devices.

Soldiers on the battlefield cannot use just any battery. They need portable power sources that discharge power quickly enough to keep their electronics running, that are light enough to carry into the field for extended missions, that contain enough total power to accommodate most missions, and that neither explode nor catch fire when damaged.

"What lithium batteries can do is lighten the load of batteries to provide an adequate source of power that doesn't burden the soldier with excess weight," says John Costa, executive vice president for new business development at battery integrator Nexergy Inc. in Columbus, Ohio.

One of the most accepted and demanded battery chemistries for military manpack equipment is lithium sulfur dioxide -- commonly simply referred to as lithium. This kind of battery is small, lightweight, and efficient enough for military applications in the field. Nearly as important is the lithium battery's ability to function properly in temperature extremes.

"Alkaline batteries are not really used in the military because they don't work well in cold temperatures," explains Sol Jacobs, vice president and general manager of Tadiran Batteries in Port Washington, N.Y. "They also need a big battery pack."

Lithium batteries contain three to four volts per cell, while Alkaline batteries have about 1.5 volts per cell, Jacobs says.

Another big advantage of a lithium battery is its ability to maintain a charge over long periods of storage or dormant activity, which makes them appropriate for applications like unattended sensors, missiles, and smart munitions guidance, Jacobs says.

Tadiran provides the TLM-series lithium battery, which comes in AA and other sizes. These batteries provide an open circuit voltage of 4 volts, can handle pulses as strong as 15 amps, accommodates five amps maximum continuous load at more than three volts. These batteries primarily for applications in military and aerospace, automatic external defibrillators, portable medical devices, communications systems, and telematics.

"This battery is always on, so you can check to see if it is a dud or not," Jacobs says. "Ours have a lifetime of up to 20 years." The TLM family of batteries is commercial off-the-shelf (COTS), meets military shock and vibration guidelines, functions in hot and cold temperatures, "and is much less expensive than custom-made batteries," he says.

TLM batteries also are non-toxic and non-pressurized for safety. The batteries have survived tests like nail penetration, crush tests, high-temperature chambers, short circuit, and charge tests.

"There used to be jokes that batteries didn't need to be safe; they just needed to work," says Nexergy's Costa. "That may parallel what we see in non-military applications, but for the military, a bullet must be able to penetrate the pack without any extraordinary result -- like a fire or explosion."

Lithium batteries also are the prevailing choice over rechargeable batteries for several reasons," says Tadiran's Jacobs. Rechargeables are more expensive to buy, and do not have the power density of lithium, so batter packs must be larger and heavier.

Military battery and battery charger manufacturers

American Power Conversion Corp.
West Kingston, R.I.

Arotech Corp.
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Battery Specialties
Costa Mesa, Calif.

EEMB Batteries
Shenzhen, China

Electrochem Solutions Inc.
Clarence N.Y.

Heter Battery Technology Co. Ltd.
Shenzhen, China
+86-632-8636 566

House Of Batteries
Fountain Valley, Calif.

Nexergy Inc.
Columbus, Ohio

Saft S.A.
Bagnolet, France

Storage Battery Systems Inc.
Menomonee Falls, Wis.

Tadiran U.S. Battery Division
Port Washington, N.Y.

TDI Power
Hackettstown, N.J.

Varta Microbattery Inc.
White Plains, N.Y.

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