A Feasibility Study for a Stratospheric Long-endurance Hybrid Unmanned Aerial Vehicle using a Regenerative Fuel Cell System

  • Cho, Seong-Hyun ;
  • Cha, Moon-Yong ;
  • Kim, Minjin ;
  • Sohn, Young-Jun ;
  • Yang, Tae-Hyun ;
  • Lee, Won-Yong
  • Received : 2016.01.04
  • Accepted : 2016.02.05
  • Published : 2016.03.31


In the stratosphere, the air is stable and a photovoltaic (PV) system can produce more solar energy compared to in the atmosphere. If unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) fly in the stratosphere, the flight stability and efficiency of the mission are improved. On the other hand, the weakened lift force of the UAV due to the rarefied atmosphere can require more power for lift according to the weight and/or wing area of the UAV. To solve this problem, it is necessary to minimize the weight of the aircraft and improve the performance of the power system. A regenerative fuel cell (RFC) consisting of a fuel cell (FC) and water electrolysis (WE) combined PV power system has been investigated as a good alterative because of its higher specific energy. The WE system produces hydrogen and oxygen, providing extra energy beyond the energy generated by the PV system in the daytime, and then saves the gases in tanks. The FC system supplies the required power to the UAV at night, so the additional fuel supply to the UAV is not needed anymore. The specific energy of RFC systems is higher than that of Li-ion battery systems, so they have less weight than batteries that supply the same energy to the UAV. In this paper, for a stratospheric long-endurance hybrid UAV based on an RFC system, three major design factors (UAV weight, wing area and performance of WE) affecting the ability of long-term flight were determined and a simulation-based feasibility study was performed. The effects of the three design factors were analyzed as the flight time increased, and acceptable values of the factors for long endurance were found. As a result, the long-endurance of the target UAV was possible when the values were under 350 kg, above 150 m2 and under 80 kWh/kg H2.


Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cell;Regenerative Fuel Cell;Unmanned Aerial Vehicle;Hybrid System;Stratospheric Long Endurance


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