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Solar Energy

Published on July 27th, 2009 | by Andrew Williams


USAF Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to Run on Solar Power

July 27th, 2009 by  


A team of US scientists are working on a new generation of airborne solar cells, and expects them to power Air Force unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the near future.

The University of Washington’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) project team, believe that their new breed of Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) will become an optimum energy harvesting source that may lead to longer flight times without the need to refuel.

According to lead researcher Dr. Minoru Taya, “These kinds of solar cells have more specific power convergence efficiency (PCE), very clean energy and easy scalability to a larger skin area of the craft, as well as low-temperature processing, which leads to lower costs overall.”

The new airborne solar cells are made by blending a flexible film and a thin glass coating with transparent conductive electrodes. Taya has discovered that DSSCs made from organic materials, which use (dyes) and moth-eye film, are able to capture photons and transform them into synthesized electrons capable of harvesting high photon energy.

Several years ago the team attached DSSCs on the wings of a toy airplane. Although the propeller fired-up OK the plane was unable to take-off because the glass based solar cells they were using were too heavy. After a hasty rethink, they switched to film battery technology, which enabled the plane to get airborne.

Now the team are developing airborne energy harvesters, which are installed in the wings of the air force UAVs.

“Any airborne energy harvester must satisfy additional requirements, like weight and durability in airborne environments. If those are met, then there may even be longer UAV flight times,” said Taya.

Image Credit – bryce_edwards on flickr

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About the Author

is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.

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