Researchers have successfully conducted test flights of a hydrogen-powered unmanned aircraft, believed to be the largest to fly on a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell using compressed hydrogen.
Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have successfully conducted test flights of a hydrogen-powered unmanned aircraft, believed to be the largest to fly on a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell using compressed hydrogen.
The cell that powers the 22ft wingspan aircraft generates only 500W, representing one per cent of the power of a hybrid car such as the Toyota Prius.
The project was headed by David Parekh, Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) deputy director and founder of Georgia Tech’s Centre for Innovative Fuel Cell and Battery Technologies, who wanted to develop a vehicle that would advance fuel-cell technology and galvanise industry interest.
Although the car industry has made strides with fuel cells, apart from spacecraft, less has been done to apply the technology to aerospace applications.
Fuel cells, which create an electrical current when they convert hydrogen and oxygen into water, are potential fuel sources because of their high energy density, which translates into longer endurance. Although they don’t produce sufficient power for commercial passenger aircraft, they could power smaller, slower vehicles such as UAVs, and provide a low-cost alternative to satellites. Such UAVs could also track hurricanes, patrol borders and carry out reconnaissance.
They would have several advantages over conventional UAVs. They neither produce pollution nor require separate generators to produce electricity for operating electronic components. They also operate at near ambient temperatures and so emit less heat, which would make them stealthier.