Lithium-ion Batteries Key to Powering UAVs

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are gaining more popularity in both the defense and civilian sectors thanks to their effectiveness and ease of operation when compared to manned aircraft.

Battery-powered aerial vehicles are already in use for various functions of military intelligence, as well as for commercial, recreational, scientific, surveillance and agricultural applications.

The large potential of this relatively young industry is reflected in analysts’ expectations of massive expansion over the next several years. A recent report by market researchers Markets and Markets estimates that the UAV market will grow from $13.22 billion in 2016 to $28.27 billion by 2022.

A separate research report by Technavio predicts that the UAV market will grow by an annual rate of nearly 13 percent until 2021, mainly due to increased adoption of low-cost alternatives to cost-intensive attack aircraft.

According to this research, unmanned combat aerial vehicles which carry small guided armaments are much cheaper to operate than large air-to-surface missiles. These bombs ensure greater flexibility and enable deployment on soft targets such as hostile ground troops or unarmored military trucks.

Drones for Commercial and Civilian Use

The usage of UAVs is not limited to military and law enforcement agencies. Commercial users are already showing interest in a wide spectrum of possible assignments, for example, Amazon has recently completed the first public demonstration of its Prime Air drone delivery service.

Other retailers intend to use drones to secure warehouses and store perimeters through video, in addition to aiding in site selection and construction management.

Drones can support different operational aspects including mission endurance, payload carrying capabilities and the ability to operate safely in harsh environmental conditions and limited logistic footprints.

Alternative Energy Sources

In order to optimize the performance of UAVs, operators need to select the right energy system. Thought should be given to using the right batteries, chargers, starters and backup batteries in order to guarantee high performance, reliability and extended life cycles of both airborne and ground elements.

According to Technavio, one of hottest trends in the UAV industry is the emergence of alternative energy-powered UAVs. Research analysts note that vendors are already experimenting with alternative fuel cell technologies which can considerably reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

This relates directly to the need to address the mediocre endurance and flight range-related challenges of UAVs. Recent acceptance of emerging technologies will encourage UAV operators to seek alternative-powered UAVs.

One of the best solutions is the use of high-energy and high-power density rechargeable lithium technology. Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries offer flexible design and form factors that support complex geometries. Li-ion batteries are already transforming the vehicle market and a similar evolution is expected to take place in the UAV market.

Li-ion batteries offer a long-life cycle, enabling the support of hundreds of missions with a single battery and can be operated in extreme environmental conditions.

This fast-growing industry has led to a substantial reduction in lithium-based energy costs from $1,000 kWh some 10 years ago, to only $200/kWh today. The prices are expected to decrease even further to less than $100/kWh by 2022.

Taking into account the latest improvements in safety and reliability of lithium batteries, Li-ion batteries are a safe and reliable alternative to jet propulsion and offer unparalleled advantages that will undoubtedly advance the UAV industry.