Characterisation of a hybrid, fuel-cell-based propulsion system for small unmanned aircraft

Journal of Power Sources 2014


Advanced hybrid powerplants combining a fuel cell and battery can enable significantly higher endurance for small, electrically powered unmanned aircraft systems, compared with batteries alone. However, detailed investigations of the static and dynamic performance of such systems are required to address integration challenges. This article describes a series of tests used to characterise the Horizon Energy Systems’ AeroStack hybrid, fuel-cell-based powertrain. The results demonstrate that a significant difference can exist between the dynamic performance of the fuel-cell system and its static polarisation curve, confirming the need for detailed measurements. The results also confirm that the AeroStack’s lithium-polymer battery plays a crucial role in its response to dynamic load changes and protects the fuel cell from membrane dehydration and fuel starvation. At low static loads, the AeroStack fuel cell recharges the battery with currents up to 1 A, which leads to further differences with the polarisation curve.