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Batteries are the secret ingredient in the new series Running Wild: The Challenge (photo: Rob Riggle and Bear Grylls with military escort in the Sierra Nevada Gorge, photo courtesy of National Geographic/Ben Simms)


Running Wild Reminds Us: It’s All About The Batteries

Batteries are the secret ingredient in the new series Running Wild: The Challenge, and they also feature front and center in the US Army’s plans for equipping the Soldier of the future.

Bear Grylls gives his background in the British Special Forces a good workout in the new series Running Wild: The Challenge, which has been unspooling on National Geographic and Disney+. The military connection is of interest from a clean tech point of view because the Running Wild team, and the electrified soldiers of today, both depend on batteries to sustain operations in remote locations.

It’s All About The Batteries

CleanTechnica had a chance to ask Bear how he and the team managed to pull it all together for Running Wild: The Challenge, and it was no walk in the park. Following is our email interview.

CleanTechnica: What is the biggest challenge about filming the series?

Bear: I think it’s been especially hard this last season juggling covid restrictions and locations and guests… many film productions were operating in production bubbles and were nervous of allowing their main actors time away to come on an adventure and that coupled with locations having to change often made it a tough year. But we are fortunate to be a small efficient team and to be able to adapt fast and stay nimble with plans. It’s why I’m so proud that as a crew we pulled off such an epic season against this backdrop. Despite the challenges. But as they say: storms make us stronger!

CleanTechnica: How does technology factor into designing the challenges?

Bear: Good battery power is always critical for us filming in all weather and all temperatures with so much camera gear and safety gear. But we are used to that and the crew are amazing at carrying the right amount of gear so that we can still move fast and operate efficiently yet also have it all at hand and waterproofed and enough of it all. That’s a dance that comes with experience because ultimately without tech or power we can’t film the adventure.

CleanTechnica: What’s next for you — what is your next project?

Bear: Onto the next season of Running Wild — and what a huge privilege it is to be able to continue this show that we all love and have given so much of our lives to building. It’s a great honor to work with best friends and so many great stars.

Stars Come Out For Running Wild, With A Military Twist

The real stars of Running Wild: The Challenge are the amazing locations, including the canyons of the Escalante desert in southern Utah, the Canadian Rockies, the coastal jungles and volcanic rain forests of Costa Rica, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the Great Basin desert.

However, the people-stars also get props for helping to bring the wonders of the natural world into millions of living rooms around the globe, including Natalie Portman, Simu Liu, Ashton Kutcher, Florence Pugh, Anthony Anderson, and Rob Riggle.

Rob Riggle’s military background may have given him a leg up on the goings-on. The Kentucky-born actor and comedian joined the US Marine Corps out of college and and served as a Reserve Lieutenant Colonel.

His Running Wild episode takes place in the Great Basin and it involves a lot of rope work, apparently in preparation for an upcoming role.

Those of you who are familiar with the Great Basin may be wondering where, exactly, Riggle and the Running Wild team went in the Great Basin. Good question! Watch the series and find out (spoiler alert: check out the photo caption at the top of this page).

The Great Basin is actually a series of basins spread out among several western states, all characterized by the fact that they do not drain to the ocean. Rain and snow over those basins either evaporates or seeps underground. If you would like to visit, check out Great Basin National Park in Nevada.

Batteries For The Soldier Of Tomorrow, Today

The military connection to batteries is pretty obvious, but it’s worth a quick review. Batteries are a mainstay of modern warfare. The use of batteries for drones has been getting a lot of attention of lately, but a key part of the challenge is organizing batteries for soldiers on foot to power their ever-increasing load of electronic gear, often made by different manufacturers with incompatible battery systems.

Batteries alone can account for 15 to 25 pounds of a soldier’s load, and safety is also an issue. So is cost. According to one estimate calculated back in 2011, the yearly cost for fielding batteries for a battalion in Afghanistan was next in line after the cost of munitions.

US Army researchers have been hammering away at the portable battery problem for years. One breakthrough was published in the journal Nature three years ago, in which scientists at the the Army’s corporate research laboratory (aka ARL) and the University of Maryland demonstrated an ultra high capacity, rechargeable battery.

“Leveraging the reversible halogen conversion and intercalation in a graphite structure enabled by a super-concentrated aqueous electrolyte, the authors demonstrated the full aqueous Li-ion batteries with excellent cycling stability and a projected energy density of 460 Wh/Kg (total mass of cathode and anode), which is comparable or even higher than state-of-the-art Li-ion batteries using transition metal oxide cathodes and flammable non-aqueous electrolytes,” the Army explained.

ARL is also working on futuristic, virtually unbreakable batteries that can withstand extreme temperatures as well as extremely rough conditions.

“ARL scientists have meticulously engineered sheets of bendable, water-based, non-flammable, longer-lasting lithium-ion batteries intended to support warfighting efforts,” the Army explained, noting that “typical batteries can be potentially dangerous during military operations, he said, where thermal and wear-and-tear become more prevalent. Under these conditions, traditional batteries can be unreliable, catch fire or even explode.”

And Of Course, Solid-State Batteries Are On The Menu

ARL is on a revved-up timeline to get the battery into use by 2024, so stay tuned for more on that.

Meanwhile, that particular battery is just one part of a $7.2 million, multi-year, next-generation research program launched by ARL in October of 2020.

Partnering with ARL in the project are the University of Maryland, the University of Montana, the Energy Department’s Argonne and Brookhaven laboratories, the National Institute of Standards & Technology, the New York Battery & Energy Storage Consortium, Stony Brook University, and the University of Texas-Austin.

The supercapacitor firm Graphenix Development Inc., the solid-state energy storage expert Ion Storage Systems, and the Saft America division of the leading global battery maker Saft are also on the team.

Speaking of teams, for those of you keeping score at home, Running Wild: The Challenge was developed by Bear Grylls and Delbert Shoopman, and produced by Electus, a Propagate Company, and The Natural Studios (for Electus and The Natural Studios, Bear Grylls serves as executive producer along with Chris Grant, Drew Buckley, Ben Silverman, Howard Owens, Liz Schulze, Rob Buchta and Delbert Shoopman. For National Geographic, Bengt Anderson and Sean David Johnson are executive producers).

More stories about the Army’s clean tech research are here.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: Running Wild: The Challenge filming in the Great Basin (photo courtesy of National Geographic/Ben Simms).

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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