The Quick Report

Pentagon Developing Wireless Energy to Provide Power Anywhere

The US military is the most technologically advanced in the world. As such, American forces are highly dependent on sources of power. If only they could transmit and tap into wireless energy wherever they needed it. That problem is the impetus behind an ambitious new energy project.

To solve the problem of “energy anywhere,” the US military’s research and development arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has decided the best solution would be a wireless airborne relay system to “deliver energy into contested environments.”  

To pursue a solution, the Pentagon has officially hired Raytheon to create a wireless airborne relay system that uses “webs” to transmit energy from ground sources. The Virginia-based company has been awarded a $10 million contract to begin R&D.

Further, DARPA said it would also welcome a system that could not only transmit energy but also harvest it. Such a solution would help reduce the military’s dependence on fuel, while at the same time overcoming energy delivery and hurdles.

Enter P.O.W.E.R

Raytheon has dubbed its research program the Persistent Optical Wireless Energy Relay (POWER).

“Energy is essential in the modern battlespace, and it is critical to achieving military objectives,” said Colin Whelan, president of Advanced Technology at Raytheon, in a statement. “When operating in contested environments, energy may not always be available or abundant, making the need to generate, store, and redistribute it vital.”

Raytheon will begin the work on the two-year contract at its El Segundo, California location. Raytheon has worked on everything from missile defenses to smart weapons to space-based systems. Although the company has long been a partner with the US military this project is a new frontier. Such a system would be revolutionary in terms of military-level use. But this wireless energy web system would push forward the emerging world of wireless energy in general.

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Energy Webs

DARPA has titled the new mission Energy Web Dominance, which seeks to establish an energy transport system across airspace, maritime, land, and undersea domains. The system the military is planning to build is focused around the idea of “energy webs.”

In essence, DARPA views the concept as a sort of Internet for energy. Its main purpose is to harness energy flow from abundant sources and transmit it to energy-starved locations.

Beaming power uses the same physics as wireless communication.

“The military faces particularly acute energy challenges which are driving this innovation,” said Col. Paul Calhoun, program manager for POWER with DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “We often must operate far from established energy infrastructure and rely on liquid fuels that require precarious supply lines.”

“You need a power source,” Col. Calhoun continued. “You convert that power to a propagating wave, typically electromagnetic, send it through free space, collect it in through an aperture, and then convert it back to electricity.”

What Colonel Calhoun is explaining is the essence of wireless energy transfer.

“It is a three-phase development effort culminating in a compelling energy relay flight demonstration,” Colonel added.

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Airborne Relay Transfers

To create these so-called “energy webs” anywhere they are needed in the world, Raytheon has a plan that is centered around unmanned aircraft.

Drones would serve as relay vessels that would receive and transmit the beamed energy. From the ground, power would be beamed to aircraft. These aircraft were essentially serve as a webbed system of power hubs. These planes would then relay the energy over long distances.

Theoretically, energy stored in the webbed system of aircraft could recharge other airborne planes, power shifts at sea, or fulfill any energy needs on the ground.

What the US military ultimately seeks is to eventually be able to reroute energy in minutes, or even seconds. This would allow the military a nearly instantaneous pivot of its strategies. Currently, pivoting strategies as difficult as it often requires cumbersome changes to supply lines. This ability would help the Pentagon achieve what it calls “energy web dominance.”

“This technology seeks to enable our military to generate power where it is safe and efficient to do so and easily distribute it to other platforms,” Raytheon’s Whelan said.

To achieve success, the POWER program will need to make the power-beaming relays efficient. The biggest names will be maximizing beam quality and harvesting energy along the way.