Competition Highlights New Battlefield Energy Sources

Cuberg was one of 12 prize winners in the United States Army's 2018 xTechSearch contest.

This article originally appeared in National Defense Magazine.

Mandy Mayfield – An Army competition seeking technology from startups discovered a pair of new power sources that may help soldiers lighten their loads in battle zones.

The office of the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology sponsored the xTechSearch contest and awarded $1.5 million in development funds at the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. The goal was to find new capabilities that could contribute to the Army’s modernization priorities.

One of the 12 prize winners was an ultra-lightweight rechargeable battery developed by Cuberg of Emeryville, California. It uses a new electrolyte formula to create a battery, which affords it an increased energy density while helping cells maintain thermal stability, Richard Wang, co-founder and CEO of Cuberg, said during the conference.

The company received $2 million of seed funding from the Boeing Co. last January and finished developing its first prototype cells this past September, he added.

Another energy source showcased during the competition was a portable power generator made by Mesodyne — a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup.

The wearable generator uses thermophotovoltaic energy conversion, which transforms fuel to electricity with heat and light as intermediaries, to power devices, said Veronika Stelmakh, CEO and co-founder of the company.

It “reduces battery load by 75 percent, enabling the soldier to carry two gallons of water, more ammunition, or simply improving mobility,” Stelmakh said. Similar to Cuberg’s product, Mesodyne’s generator was designed to provide an alternative to traditional lithium-ion batteries, which can pose safety issues for the military, she added.

While the company did not win an award, Stelmakh estimated that Mesodyne is about two years away from having a finished product. However, different variables could accelerate product development, she said.

The prize winners were announced in October by Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Bruce Jette, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology Thomas Russell.

Matthew Willis, the office’s director for laboratory management, said, “What we were looking to do here was figure out a unique way for the Army to engage with businesses that we don’t normally deal with.”

Each of the 12 winners received $125,000 in prizes and will move on to phase four, the last stage of the competition. The finalists will be given six months to demonstrate proof-of-concept for their technology. The competition will culminate in a capstone event in April that will be attended by Army leadership. The winner of that will receive a $200,000 prize.