Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Apr 16

Fuel Cell Powered Military Surveillance Aircraft

Posted in Energy Industry | Fuel Cells | Transportation

Military Surveillance Aircraft It is great news that defense forces are promoting the use of alternative fuels in their own unique way. American army is using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in Afghanistan. The greatest advantage of UAVs is that they are nearly untraceable from the ground. They are used heavily by defense forces in overseas missions when uniformed men are already at a disadvantage by just being at a totally foreign and hostile territory. Here using UAVs, terrain can be scanned and intelligence can be gathered. Now it is possible that these UAVs might be flying on alternative fuels. UAVs are used to minimize loss of life of soldiers and pilots in dangerous zones. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is developing an improved version of these aircrafts that can travel to distant places more efficiently and more quietly and run on the newer fuel cell technology.


Rear Admiral Nevin Carr who is the Chief of Naval Research Office explained, “Pursuing energy efficiency and energy independence are core to ONR’s (Office of Naval Research) Power and Energy Focus Area. ONR’s investments in alternative energy sources, like fuel cell research, have application to the Navy and Marine Corps mission in future UAVs and vehicles. These investments also contribute directly to solving some of the same technology challenges faced at the national level.”

Unmanned aircrafts managed remotely or autonomously, were an essential part of the overseas operations. UAVs acted as “eyes in the sky” for dangerous missions minimizing loss of lives. Development of UAVs run on alternative fuels is exhibited by Ion Tiger. Ion tiger is a UAV research program at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) that combines two separate efforts — UAV technology and fuel cell systems. The Ion Tiger is utilizing a hydrogen-powered fuel cell. Few benefits of using hydrogen-powered fuel cell are zero poisonous emissions, lesser heat and minimum noise (military will appreciate this feature with great relief). UAV can carry heavier loads and travel farther. How can all this be achieved? Because hydrogen-powered fuel cells produce an electric current at the time of the conversion of hydrogen and oxygen into water. So the by-product, water, is pollution free. Its fuel cell propulsion system can also pack a powerful performance that is potentially twice the efficiency of an internal combustion engine. This spring, Ion Tiger’s flight trial is expected to exceed the duration of previous flights seven-fold.

Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is conducting research in fuel cell technologies for UAVs since 2005. Dr. Karen Swider-Lyons who is the NRL Principal Investigator states “With UAVs, we are dealing with relatively small fuel cells of 500 watts. It is hard to get custom, high-quality fuel cell membranes built just for this program. So we are riding along with this push for technology from the automotive industry.” So they are giving due credit to the automotive industry in procuring the necessary materials. Dr. Karen Swider-Lyons further draws our attention to the core issue. She says, “What’s different with fuel cell cars is that developers are focused on volume…so they want everything very compact. Our first issue is weight, our second issue is weight and our third issue is weight!”

In the end we can safely conclude that the Navy and Marine Corps are looking for more efficient sources of energy. ONR has been making forays into research and testing power and energy technology for decades. Often they are successful in improving their ships, aircrafts, vehicles on account of efficiency and power generation. But the benefits are not limited to the military alone. Ultimately, their efforts yield a direct benefit to the public.

  • Jos Conil

    This is defenitely great news!. I’m sure that one day we’ll all be flying in fuel cell powered airplanes.Combine that with the possibility of using lifting gases like helium for the take-off and landing, as demonstrated by Mr. Hunt (www.fuellessflight.com) and we have the aviation solution for the 21st century!

  • http://www.facebook.com/alternative.energy.news David Higgins

    Yeah I think it’s awesome we are being energy conscience in our military while we go blow shit up! Super! Why don’t we make solar powered nuclear missiles while we’re at it? That would save some fuel. Of course it won’t matter then. Will it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/alternative.energy.news Simon Vinberg Andersen

    That’s very nice… it’s so awesome that the American army is CO2 concerned.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alternative.energy.news James Richmond

    The military complex is Hugh and capable of gaining advancements in various components and technology’s that are then assimilated into our daily life’s. including the computer that you are vocally criticizing them on, many advancements and items that you do not give a second thought to are direct spin offs of government research or space program technology. The military has been involved with fuel savings for many decades. Look into a product named the Rentar fuel catalyst at http://www.rentar.com this product has many beneficial results. It was invented as a spin off from space program technology and then sold back to the military by the company who bought the rights from NASA and refined the product to its current concept. Research and development are critical to achieve our overall goals. These things don’t invent themselves, are very expensive, and the results too unsure for many companies to invest the time and money on unproven concepts and ideas.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alternative.energy.news Dale Denton

    Yep, energy consciousness is good. Less noise, carry heavier payloads and travel farther. This helps keep our troops out of harms way. Auto industry working on decreasing volume and DoD working on decreasing weight. Sounds like a win-win to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alternative.energy.news James Richmond

    Lets encourage the research regardless where it originates.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alternative.energy.news Steve Stowell

    Really strange. I can understand that a fuel cell, in and of itself, is quiet, noise-free, and of low volume and weight, and is thermodynamically efficient. The problem is the hydrogen fuel. Unless the fuel cell is powered by a hydrocarbon (conventional) fuel (which actually holds a lot more hydrogen per unit volume than any hydrogen trapped in a “getter” or in a tank) I do not see a military or cost advantage in using it. Perhaps there is a signature (makes drone harder to detect), or power impulse (They need a short-time big burst of power, same reason hydrogen was used for Apollo launches) reason to use it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alternative.energy.news Bem Favorito

    While I do agree that research should be encouraged regardless of origins, I’d have to stand up to the military using alternative energy as an excuse to make more machines for war, and much more effective machines at that. It’s just wrong, imo.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alternative.energy.news James Richmond

    Until we all come to one mindset, wars have been and always will be part of human nature. We can disagree with war but we must realize that the concept of war will remain in the human thought process as long as we exist. There will always be conflict, even in the animal kingdom all the way down to the lowly ants. Battles are a daily event… humans are just more efficient at it. Now can we get back to the subject of alternative energy please?

  • http://www.facebook.com/alternative.energy.news Steve Stowell

    I want my military tax dollars to go toward making our military more effective( as was done in the case of the computer chip). I just don’t understand here what the the overlap is between the military’s needs and a pure hydrogen fueled drone, unless there are military needs being met that aren’t obvious (see above) The critical issue to address is the storage of the hydrogen, (unless you are using a conventional fuel in your fuel cell). In Apollo, we had a lot of hydrogen to burn, because we needed it as a fuel for the rockets.

    I am not picky as to where tax funded research comes from, except if the research is politicized or outside the scope of the mission.

  • Oscar Fleury

    Dear Jos Conil,

    It’s rather frightening news in fact, since these UCAV will enhance the USA’s already global air superiority used as a joker for global power enforcement.

    The only antidote to this menace closing in on the planet is for the civil society to take possession of the global airspace with myriads of personal aircraft.

    The transfer of road traffic into the airspace will require VERTOL-aircraft like Sikorsky’s X2 for swift collision avoidance and fast cruising — but by all means no clumsy balloons!

  • Jos Conil

    Dear Mr.Oscar,

    I was commenting on the technology only – not on its area of application. It is indeed ironic that man first learns to use the destructive aspect of any technology.

    Nuclear energy is the best example.The first nuclear reactor was used for breeding plutonium which powered the first nuclear bombs showered on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.Only later, in the fifties did we start using it to produce electricity.

    I agree with you that the civil society should take posession of air space, but it should be done in a controlled manner, primarily for mass public transportation. If not, the same tragedy that happened to the personal car will happen for personal aviation also and a clogged skyway will defenitely be more energy consuming and dangerous than a clogged roadway

    The UAV’s combination of efficient fuel cells with advanced navigation systems can be a great step in that direction. (defenitely only if it is made available for civil purposes).

    The bottomline is that it is basically mindsets and priorities that should change first if a change towards a more humane and sustainable world should happen.

  • Helanati

    This is an amazing feat of man! The use of hydrogen will change global politics as we become less dependent on oil.

    If only the army knew what they were doing… paving a possible road to peace… I’m sure they would stop, immediately.

  • Oscar Fleury

    @Helanati,

    The army knows very well what paving a possible road to peace means.

    That’s why they dismissed Sikorsky’s X-wing project, with the consequence that its successor, the X2, had to be financed entirely by Sykorsky — and as if this were not enough of a rebuttal, Sikorsky has been left out more recently from the bidding for the presidential helicopter project.

    Hence, the very small X2 prototype looks almost to me as if Sikorsky wanted to take revenge by scaring the army with a concept that might well be eligible for becoming the PA (Personal Aircraft) of the future.

  • Gary Kucharski

    James Richmond, Could you give me a call 248-840-1415 I would like to talk to you about Rentar.


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