The EMP grenade, or electromagnetic pulse grenade, is a sci-fi gaming staple. Toss one of 'em at the nearest evil robot or uncooperative computer system, and it'll generate a power surge that fries all electronics within range. The military has realized that this would be a handy real-life capability, and the Pentagon is asking someone to go out and invent one.
The Army is looking for a way for individual soldiers to defeat IEDs without loading them down with something big and complicated and excessively blowy-upy. Generally, IEDs are kept from blowing up on their own by blowing them up first, but this doesn't work so well if (say) you've got a room full of people keeping said IED company. Specifically, what the Army has in mind is "non-lethal grenades that generate an electromagnetic pulse that could be used to defeat the electronics used to activate IEDs" in the form of "hand or robot delivered munitions" or "40mm grenades."
An EMP grenade works by releasing a burst of microwaves of absurdly high power that produces so much current and voltage in nearby electronics that it destroys them instantly. There are a couple different (realistic) ways to go about making an EMP: a common one is a nuclear detonation, but for a variety of reasons, the military may not particularly want itty bitty nukes to be tossed around by individual soldiers. Conventional explosives work too: an "explosively pumped flux compression generator" (just revel with me in the awesomeness of that phrase for a sec) can exceed the electrical power output of a lightning strike in a portable package, but since it's explosive driven, it's hard to make it non-lethal. The problem here is that an electromagnetic pulse powerful enough to fry stuff has to get all of that power from somewhere, and at least for now, the only way to get it into something tossable is with an explosive.
To expedite matters, the Army seems to be willing to compromise on the whole "non-lethal" bit (as it is wont to do), although it's definitely hoping that someone will come up with a solution that uses "energy stored in ferromagnetic, ferroelectric or superconducting materials." Personally, we're hoping that someone comes up with a solution that also involves a bright blue flash and a big sphere full of crackling lightning bolts.
Via Danger Room