Design, Construction and Control for Optimal Mission Management of Hydrogen Fuel Cell and Distributed Propulsion (HYDRONE) Based Extended Range Unmanned Aircraft (UAV) Missions

Agencia Estatal de Investigación. Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación. (PID2020-119468RA-100). 2021-2024

The HYDRONE project, which started last September 2021 and is funded by the State Research Agency in its program for young researchers, seeks the hybridization of hydrogen cells with current LiPo batteries, commonly used in most commercial drones used in civilian applications.

The HYDRONE team, formed by researchers from the Instituto de Automática e Informática Industrial (Instituto ai2) and the Instituto Universitario de Motores Térmicos (CMT), both belonging to the Universitat Politècnica de València, is working on the design, construction and control of a hybrid propulsion system that will substantially extend the autonomy of the next generation of drones.

The optimal management of a hybrid system consisting of LiPo batteries and hydrogen cell aims to extend the flight autonomy of drones. Right now, these vehicles have flight autonomies close to 40-45 minutes, in optimal situations. Our proposal is, depending on the hydrogen tank used, to extend this autonomy beyond two hours.

In this sense, the researchers are working on the design of a control system that incorporates parameters such as weather, trajectory or flight altitude, so that the software manages the LiPo + Hydrogen set according to the different scenarios and optimizes the effective flight time to the maximum.

Los resultados del proyecto podrían contribuir a la mejora de misiones de salvamento marítimo, control de costas, vigilancia en acuicultura o transporte. En la actualidad, la autonomía es un elemento crítico en todas las aplicaciones de drones civiles. De ahí que llevemos ya más de una década trabajando en esta dirección desde nuestros laboratorios.

HYDRONE, which will last three years, also aims to design a distributed propulsion system for drones. The aim is that the vehicles will not have a single propeller, but several propulsive elements in the fuselage, smaller engines that allow a more balanced and efficient propulsion force from the point of view of the energy consumed.

In principle, the technology is designed for drones weighing 7 kg or more and with an airplane format, a configuration with which the team has been working since 2009. However, although we use drones to test this concept, the technology is fully scalable even to a conventional manned aircraft.