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NCKU fuel cell and lithium battery hybrid powered unmanned aerial vehicle takes off successfully in Pingtung, Taiwan

National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) has undertaken the academic and research program commissioned by Ministry of Economic Affairs, Taiwan, and developed a Fuel Cell and Lithium Ion Hybrid Powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). After three years of research, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle named Grey-faced Buzzard has successfully taken off in Pingtung embankment, Taiwan, marking a new milestone of national fuel cell and lithium ion hybrid powered system.

In October, 2009, NCKU Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Spoonbill had successfully taken off, traveled back and forth between Taiwan and Penghu for 92km and set a new record in Asia. In 2010, Dr. Wei-Hsiang Lai, director of NCKU Advanced Propulsion and Power System Research Center and professor of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at National Cheng Kung University, has also developed a fuel cell and lithium ion hybrid powered UAV called Grey-faced Buzzard.

NCKU President Michael Ming-Chiao Lai made the announcement of this research achievement at 1:30 pm, May 13th. The research team of Grey-faced Buzzard UAV, including Prof. Wei-Hsiang Lai of National Cheng Kung University, who is responsible for the integrated design of fuel cell system and airframe, Prof. Chih-Seng Wang of National Cheng Kung University, who is responsible for the hydrogen supply system, and Prof. Ming-Tsung Tsai of Southern Taiwan University of Technology, who is responsible for the adjustment of power system and control system, all attended the ceremony.

President Lai expressed, "National Cheng Kung University has made an innovative breakthrough in the development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. The various applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle on national defense, commerce and agriculture have become very important. NCKU is very proud to be part of the project. With the support of the five year five billion fund from the Ministry of Education, Taiwan, and the cooperation of Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, NCKU has leaped forward in the development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle."

NCKU Prof. Wei-Hsiang Lai said, "The maiden flight of Grey-faced Buzzard UAV began at 10:40 am, May 13th, in Pingtung embankment. Flying at a speed between 80 to 100 km/h, the total flight time was 15 minutes and the total travel distance was approximately 30 km. The process was smooth and successful and the participants were very excited. We have reached our goal of a successful integration and smooth flight of Fuel Cell and Lithium Ion Hybrid Powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. For the next step, the team will challenge longer flight hours."

Prof. Lai explained, "Hybrid power is the combination of different power. It can be the combination of gasoline power, fuel cell and lithium ion, or solar energy and lithium ion, or even solar energy, fuel cell and lithium ion. NCKU Grey-faced Buzzard UAV is using the hybrid power of fuel cell and lithium ion. They can simultaneously output 2.5kW of horsepower when the UAV takes off. When it navigates in the air, fuel cell can supply power independently or both powers can supply the power. Without making major changes in the output, fuel cell can maintain excellent performance and longer life."

Prof. Lai added, "Lithium ion powered unmanned aircraft has become popular in the households. Because the electric propellers of brushless motor are very quiet, the aircraft is an excellent leisure toy in urban or rural areas. Unfortunately, the power of lithium ion is limited. It needs to be replaced every 10 minutes."

The Grey-faced Buzzard UAV developed by the research team led by Prof. Wei-Hsiang Lai has made a breakthrough in the research and development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle design and power technology. Using the hybrid power of the most advanced fuel cell and lithium ion, this Grey-faced Buzzard UAV is designed to have high altitude payload capacity and long endurance flight system.

The main characteristics of the Grey-faced Buzzard are 3.4 m in wingspan, 30 kg in maximum gross take-off weight, 4 kW of brushless motor, as well as 1 kW of fuel cell and 5400 mAh of lithium ion. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle currently weights less than 22kg and it can accommodate approximately 8 kg of payload, such as extra lithium ion or hydrogen fuel. In the future, the space of unmanned aerial vehicle can be expanded and its flight hours can also be extended.

The 21st century is an era which emphasizes on green energy and environmental protection. The development of energy replacement and energy saving technology has become an important issue. The technology of fuel cell and lithium ion hybrid power signifies a breakthrough in the application of fuel cell. It's also the core technology of Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

In comparison to rockets and satellites, the production cost of Long Endurance UAV is lower, the test period is shorter and the launch speed is faster. The resolution of image capture can be as high as that of the satellites. The technology of fuel cell and lithium ion hybrid power has won the favor of communication companies, remote sensing, environment monitoring and the military. It has also been applied in signal communication, science research, remote sensing, environment monitoring and military reconnaissance. It is believed that this power technology, which can save energy and protect environment, has become a potential crucial technology.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) can be categorized into Remote Pilot Vehicle (RPV) and Autonomous Flight. Because it's small in size and fully equipped, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is an important field for the development of future airplanes. Advanced countries are putting in large amount of funds into its research and development. In the future, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle may replace all the functions of an airplane, including military operations, reconnaissance, monitoring, hazard detection, even coast guard and smuggling prevention. The design of a new high-value and cost-conscious Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is the goal of every national government.

Press release issued by National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) on May 14, 2010


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