Surveillance vehicles take flight using alternative energy

Mar 30, 2009
This photo shows the Ion Tiger. Credit: US Naval Research Laboratory

Nearly undetectable from the ground, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are widely used by the military to scan terrain for possible threats and intelligence. Now, fuel cell powered UAVs are taking flight as an Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored program to help tactical decision-makers gather critical information more efficiently... and more quietly.

Piloted remotely or autonomously, UAVs have long provided extra "eyes in the sky" especially for missions that are too dangerous for manned aircraft. This latest technology is showcased by Ion Tiger, a UAV research program at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) that merges two separate efforts — UAV technology and systems.

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

"Pursuing energy efficiency and energy independence are core to ONR's Power and Energy Focus Area," said Rear Admiral Nevin Carr, Chief of Naval Research. "ONR's investments in , like fuel cell research, have application to the Navy and Marine Corps mission in future UAVs and vehicles. These investments also contribute directly to solving some of the same technology challenges faced at the national level."

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.

"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," says NRL Principal Investigator Dr. Karen Swider-Lyons.

This spring, Ion Tiger's flight trial is expected to exceed the duration of previous flights seven-fold.

"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 5 pound payload," says ONR Program Manager Dr. Michele Anderson. "That's something nobody can do right now."

In 2005, NRL backed initial research in fuel cell technologies for UAVs. Today, says Swider-Lyons, it's paying off with a few lessons learned from the automotive industry.

"With UAVs, we are dealing with relatively small fuel cells of 500 watts," she explains. "It is hard to get custom, high-quality fuel cell membranes built just for this program. So we are riding along with this push for technology from the automotive industry."

"What's different with fuel cell cars is that developers are focused on volume…so they want everything very compact," adds Swider-Lyons. "Our first issue is weight, our second issue is weight and our third issue is weight!"

Besides delivering energy savings and increased power potential, fuel cell technology spans the operational spectrum from ground vehicles to UAVs, to man-portable power generation for Marine expeditionary missions to meeting power needs afloat. In fact, it's technology that Marines at Camp Pendleton are using today to power their General Motors fuel cell vehicles.

Across the board, the Navy and Marine Corps are seeking more efficient sources of energy. ONR has been researching and testing power and energy technology for decades. Often the improvements to power generation and fuel efficiency for ships, aircraft, vehicles and installations yield a direct benefit to the public.

"ONR has been a visionary in terms of providing support for this program," says Swider-Lyons.

Source: Naval Research Laboratory (news : web)

Explore further: First of four Fukushima reactors cleared of nuclear fuel

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NRL demonstrates fuel cell-powered unmanned aerial system

Nov 22, 2005

The Naval Research Laboratory, in collaboration with industrial partners, demonstrated an unmanned aerial system (UAS) flight solely powered by fuel cell technology. The flight of the 5.6-pound 'Spider-Lion" lasted 3 hours, 1 ...

Flying on hydrogen

Aug 28, 2006

Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have conducted successful test flights of a hydrogen-powered unmanned aircraft believed to be the largest to fly on a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell using ...

U.S. Army Exhibits Successful Fuel Cell

Oct 07, 2005

Hawaii's first successful fuel cell is buzzing along at the historic Schofield Barracks Fire Station. Installed by Logan Energy under a U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Construction Engineering Research Laboratory demonstration ...

Proton-Exchange-Membrane Fuel Cell Tested at Glenn

Oct 04, 2005

A significant milestone in technology development for space exploration applications will be achieved with the testing of a Proton-Exchange-Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC) engineering model power plant. The engineering model is ...

Recommended for you

The state of shale

Dec 19, 2014

University of Pittsburgh researchers have shared their findings from three studies related to shale gas in a recent special issue of the journal Energy Technology, edited by Götz Veser, the Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of Che ...

Website shines light on renewable energy resources

Dec 18, 2014

A team from the University of Arizona and eight southwestern electric utility companies have built a pioneering web portal that provides insight into renewable energy sources and how they contribute to the ...

Better software cuts computer energy use

Dec 18, 2014

An EU research project is developing tools to help software engineers create energy-efficient code, which could reduce electricity consumption at data centres by up to 50% and improve battery life in smart ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Arkaleus
3 / 5 (6) Mar 30, 2009
Think this through with me. In a nation where the greatest spending in research and development is by the Pentagon, where are all the best and brightest Americans going?

Channeling the talent of our nation into building machines of destruction and their accompanying battle systems is a commitment to homicide and suicide.

When the day comes when all of our fantastic and efficient machines of anihilation are used, will it be a suprise? Do you expect peace to remain when all you build are the tools of war?

Instead of peace, you will enpower the violent and the terrible. Instead of happiness and health, you give the evil part of our nation the implements they need to take power by force domestically and abroad.

Under the watch of evil men we have seen the dismantling of our peacful industries and the consolidation of our military-industrial development complex. Their domination of industry and technology in this society can only serve to futher entrech the tyranny of the federal combination of powers and altogether remove the states from their independence.

What a perversion of human mind to apply our talents to the destruction of life and lands, when we claim to seek peace and plenty.

I encourage my generation to reject the temptation of our national government and refuse to apply their talents towards the creations of war. Build machines and technologies that increase our liberty and health, and develop those things which will create work and abundance at home.
NeilFarbstein
2 / 5 (2) Mar 30, 2009
They are spending more on combat suits with nanofeatures and unmanned drones etc to reduce the amount of lives lost in battle. The alternative would be drafting soldiers which would take away even more freedoms.
Sean_W
1.7 / 5 (3) Mar 30, 2009
Just go back to carpet bombing and indescriminent heavy artilary. It killed a lot more civilians but it did not require as much technology and Pentagon war machine funding.
COCO
1 / 5 (1) Mar 31, 2009
I see the civilian app of finding me a new girl friend!!
MisteR33
1 / 5 (1) Mar 31, 2009
@coco Yes thats a good idea!

Yes my words: we makes more war, with more die civilists and with intactly nature!
Now we brought a clean depled uranium!
Or a green nano neutron bomb.

If we checking the complied way of efficience:
we must have verry much energy to make H²!

The price for using privat H² fuell cells is not to discussion.

But here in this situation is this a correctly thing.

Please looking at http://www.ethecon.org you see on the left site a button for english.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.