Browse Publications Technical Papers 2004-01-3166

Performance Characterization of a Lithium-Ion Gel Polymer Battery Power Supply System for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle 2004-01-3166

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are currently under development for NASA missions, earth sciences, aeronautics, the military, and commercial applications. The design of an all electric power and propulsion system for small UAVs was the focus of a detailed study. Currently, many of these small vehicles are powered by primary (nonrechargeable) lithium-based batteries. While this type of battery is capable of satisfying some of the mission needs, a secondary (rechargeable) battery power supply system that can provide the same functionality as the current system at the same or lower system mass and volume is desired. A study of commercially available secondary battery cell technologies that could provide the desired performance characteristics was performed. Due to the strict mass limitations and wide operating temperature requirements of small UAVs, the only viable cell chemistries were determined to be lithium-ion liquid electrolyte systems and lithium-ion gel polymer electrolyte systems.
Two lithium-ion gel polymer cell designs were selected as candidates and were tested using potential load profiles for UAV applications. Because lithium primary batteries have a higher specific energy and energy density, for the same mass and volume allocation, the secondary batteries resulted in shorter flight times than the primary batteries typically provide. When the batteries were operated at lower ambient temperatures (0 to -20 °C), flight times were even further reduced. Despite the reduced flight times demonstrated, for certain UAV applications, the secondary batteries operated within the acceptable range of flight times at room temperature and above.
The results of this testing indicate that a secondary battery power supply system can provide some benefits over the primary battery power supply system. A UAV can be operated for hundreds of flights using a secondary battery power supply system that provides the combined benefits of rechargeability and an inherently safer chemistry.


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