Based on current capabilities, we examine the feasibility of creating a carbohydrate-based regenerative fuel cell (CRFC) as the primary power source for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for long endurance missions where station keeping is required. The CRFC power system evaluated in this research is based on a closed-loop construct where carbohydrates are generated from zooxanthellae, algae which create excess carbohydrates during photosynthesis. The carbohydrates are then fed to a carbohydrate fuel cell where electric power is generated for the UAV’s propulsion, flight control, payload, and accessory systems. The waste products from the fuel cell, carbon dioxide and water, are used by the zooxanthellae to create more carbohydrates, therefore mass is conserved in the process of power generation. The overall goal of this research is to examine the potential of CRFCs as a viable power source for UAV systems, to look at scaling issues related to different vehicle sizes and missions, and to identify sensitivities in the CRFC system to different system parameters, indicating the areas where technology improvements may make CRFCs a viable technology. Through simulations, a UAV is sized to determine if greater than 24 hour endurance flight is possible and these results are compared to UAVs using more traditional photo-cell based power systems. The initial results suggest that CRFCs have potential as a power system for long endurance UAVs, and could offer significant improvements to the overall system performance. The final outcome of this research is to identify the most important areas for more detailed follow-on work in designing a production-ready CRFC power system for long endurance UAVs.

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