The autonomous drone market could be fully realised with UFC FlashBattery, a battery pack that recharges in five minutes and cuts costs by removing the ‘man in the loop’.
This is the claim of StoreDot, an Israeli company that has developed the UFC FlashBattery, a power source that works in tandem with the required ultra-fast charging (UFC) station to recharge 18 times faster than existing drone batteries and provide a flight time of 31 minutes.
According to StoreDot CEO Dr Doron Myersdorf, the UFC FlashBattery could recharge in one minute, but this would incur a penalty in terms of the number of cycles it could go through, which would be around 30 compared to 100-150.
A further trade off occurs relative to energy density, which stands at 170Wh/kg and 430Wh/l compared to industry ranges of 150-250Wh/kg and 300-700Wh/l respectively.
However, it can take between 60 to 90 minutes to charge a commercial drone, with full charge giving a flight time of just over 30 minutes. Slow charging – plus the added cost of extra batteries and manually swapping them out between flights – is hindering the growth of a commercial drone market estimated to be worth $129bn by 2025.
The need for a person to be involved in the charging process also limits drone users’ range of operation, as they are restricted to locating charging stations at sites that are easily accessible to humans.
“[By] eliminating the need for human intervention, drone operators have far greater freedom about where they can site charging stations,” said Dr Myersdorf. “As a result, continuous, fully-autonomous drone operation is finally being made a reality.”
The UFC FlashBattery also reduces cost by eliminating the need to purchase additional batteries and StoreDot’s expertise in active materials and protective compounds are two of a range of specialities that have been key to this.
Graphite is the active material in many lithium ion batteries, but fast charging can lead to the formation of dendrites which can increase the risk of fire or explosion.
StoreDot’s active materials are metalloid nanotechnology alloys of tin, germanium, and silicon that have very high diffusion and low resistance when the lithium ions are introduced. Dr Myersdorf explained that the company’s capabilities in organic synthesis allows them to take a nanoparticle and coat it with a binder and a protective polymer-style organic material that would give it the flexibility to absorb the ions but also make sure there are no cracks or impurities in the structure during charging and discharging.
“Some of our binders are…self-healing, so if we do get some cracks throughout the life of the battery they would heal over time as you keep charging the battery,” he said during the launch of UFC FlashBattery.
StoreDot foresees drones equipped with two battery packs (32 cells per pack) with a pack capacity of 6.8Ah, current charge of 135A (for two packs), and a pack voltage window of 19V-34.4V.
The company said sample cells are available to drone manufacturers for testing, with full commercialisation expected by end of the year.