Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies of Singapore has announced that a new hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system designed by it allowed a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to conduct a flight to cover a distance 50 per cent longer than the previous record for micro-UAV''s.
The fuel cell integrated micro-UAV set a new flight distance record of 78 miles (128 km) in Lancaster, California, exceeding by 28 miles (40 km) the previous record set in 2006 in Estonia. Of greater significance is the fact that the flight record was achieved using only 25% of the hydrogen tank capacity stored on-board the aircraft. On a full tank of fuel, the aircraft''s flying range will be 500 km (310 miles), which would be several times longer than previously recorded.
The micro-UAV was designed by two leading US aerospace research laboratories, the Dryden Flight Research Center and the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation and was supported by NASA.
Horizon''s new ultra-compact hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system creates high-efficiency electrical power by reacting hydrogen and oxygen from the air without combustion. Fuel cells enable longer flight times, quieter operation, less heat signature, and higher reliability than batteries or other methods of propulsion for many UAV''s.
So far however, very few fuel cell systems have been able to meet the extremely stringent size and weight requirements of UAVs. Horizon offers the best known system power and energy density specifications in a fuel cell based propulsion system, which can greatly extend the flight range of existing small UAV''s. Horizon''s system offers over 480 Watt hours per kilogram, or 2.6 times the energy density of the best available batteries.
The UAV project named "Pterosoar," was the result of a joint-effort led by principal investigators Dr. Maj Mirmirani, dean of the mechanical engineering department at California State University of Los Angeles (fuel cell system testing and integration); Dr Andy Arena of Oklahoma State University Aerospace Engineering Laboratory (fuel cell aircraft development); Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies (fuel cell system); and Temasek Polytechnic of Singapore (system control electronics).
The name "Pterosoar" was adopted and adapted because the nose of the aircraft includes some fuel cell cooling scoops that make the airplane resemble a class of prehistoric creatures named Pterosaurs.
In the next few weeks, the same aircraft is expected to exceed 15.5 hours of flight, setting a new world endurance record for small-size unmanned planes.
While these achievements are significant milestones for the aerospace sector, further performance improvements are on the way. George Gu, CEO of Horizon Fuel Cell comments, "Due to our best in class fuel cell power density, we have been able to dedicate approximately 80% of the total power system volume to hydrogen storage using pre-filled pressurized hydrogen tanks to achieve record breaking results. However, we plan to employ more advanced forms of hydrogen storage based on Millennium Cell''s Hydrogen on Demand technology."
The UAV market is currently estimated to touch $54 billion over the next 10 years, according to a recent Teal Group report.