Hydrogen fuel to boost range of drones seven-fold

March 31st, 2009 - 2:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 31 (IANS) Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones that scan terrains unobtrusively for possible threats and intelligence can now fly farther and carry heavier loads with the help of fuel cells.
This latest technology has been showcased by Ion Tiger, a UAV research programme at the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington that merges two separate efforts - UAV technology and fuel cell systems.

Ion Tiger tests a hydrogen-powered fuel cell design, which can travel farther and carry heavier payloads than earlier battery-powered designs. The craft employs stealthy characteristics due to its small size, reduced noise, low heat signature and zero emissions.

Ion Tiger’s flight trial is expected to exceed the duration of previous flights seven-fold.

“Pursuing energy efficiency and energy independence are core to the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) power and energy focus area,” said Rear Admiral Nevin Carr, chief of naval research.

Fuel cells create an electrical current when they convert hydrogen and oxygen into water and are pollution-free. A fuel cell propulsion system can also deliver potentially twice the efficiency of an internal combustion engine while running more quietly and with greater endurance, according to an ONR release.

“In this size range, we are hopefully able to conduct very productive surveillance missions at low cost with a relatively small vehicle, and a high-quality electric payload,” said NRL principal investigator Karen Swider-Lyons.

“This will really be a ‘first of its kind’ demonstration for a fuel cell system in a UAV application for a 24-hour endurance flight, with a five-pound payload,” said ONR programme manager Michele Anderson. “That’s something nobody can do right now.”

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