UAV Power Options
In the commercial sector UAVs are highly valued for their ability to autonomously conduct aerial surveys, which provide important data for infrastructure, environmental and agricultural monitoring. In the defense sector, they are increasingly used to conduct surveillance, provide intel and deliver missiles to sensitive targets. The global market for UAVs was valued at $11B in 2020, and is expected to reach $25B in 2027 according to a report from Fortune Business Insights. While fossil-fueled UAVs provide the longest operating range and highest payload capacity, they create undesirable noise and acoustical. In addition, as with other fossil fueled aircraft and vehicles, there is growing demand to decrease the carbon emissions attributable to aircraft such as UAVs.
For these reasons, batteries have become the dominant power source for small and mid-sized UAVs, and fuel cells have also started to emerge as a viable alternative. Giner is well positioned to address the power needs of UAVs with both batteries and fuel cells.
While lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries dominate the landscape for battery powered UAVs, they only provide 1-2 hours of operating range on a single charge based on their moderate energy capacity. This can be extended with strategic hot swapping stations or tethering to a power supply, but this increases the complexity and cost of unmanned aerial systems. Giner has several programs underway funded by NASA, the DOE and the DOD for the development of lithium sulfur batteries. Lithium sulfur batteries hold the promise of providing up to five times more specific energy than incumbent lithium batteries, which would provide a marked increase in the operating range of battery powered UAVs. However, lithium sulfur batteries suffer from extremely short cycle life due to a phenomena known as polysulfide shuttling. By virtue of funding from our agency partners, we are able to address this limitation using several different approaches, which will enable the ability of range extending, high energy density batteries for UAVs.
Fuel cells perhaps provide the ultimate solution as a power source for UAVs, combing the low noise and zero emissions of battery powered UAVs with range approaching that of fossil fueled UAVs. Refueling is also a lot quicker and more readily accomplished than swapping battery packs, and there is no charging requirement. However, fuel cells suffer from the high system weight created by external compressors and gas storage tanks.
Giner has developed a unique, high power density MEA for UAVs that increases stack power output and reduces system size and weight, enabling a significant extension of mission range.