Hydrogen powered drone breaks flight time record during testing

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A consortium of UK firms has successfully flown a multi-rotor drone powered by a hydrogen fuel cell for 70 minutes for the first time.

A recent test flight saw a modified drone, which is operated by UAV filming company Batcam, achieve the flight time using a purpose-built fuel cell instead of a lithium-ion battery.

The cell was fueled by a 6-litre (1.5 gallon) cylinder containing hydrogen gas compressed to 300 bar. The drone normally runs for around 12 minutes when powered by batteries.

The 15 kg drone, which carried a 5 kg payload during the flight, was modified by fuel cell company Intelligent Energy as part of government-funded project called Rachel.

The project is expected to complete during the next few weeks, with Batcam carrying out real-world end-user trials.

Jon Hurndall, CEO of Batcam said, “It is great to see product innovation and continued development with hydrogen fuel cells for UAVs – these represent a viable alternative to lithium batteries which are not only difficult and costly to transport internationally but largely inefficient in comparison to hydrogen.

“A 60-minute plus flight time with a large payload creates many opportunities, not only with our existing broadcast clients but in other commercial markets and sectors. We are eager to explore these opportunities in 2019.”

Intelligent Energy conducted the integration work and Batcam advised on design requirements, project targets and has piloted the test flights. In addition, Intelligent Energy is commissioning and trialing a portable hydrogen refueling solution made by supplier NanoSUN.

The project is being led by engineering firm Productiv. Jonathan Reed, project leader at Productiv said, “This innovation opens up new opportunities for commercial UAV operators. Operators need longer flight times than can be delivered with batteries and are therefore seeking alternative power sources with higher power density.”

David Woolhouse, CEO of Intelligent Energy said, “The advantages of fuel cells over batteries for our customers are clear: fast refuel, no vibration, quiet operation, zero emission at point of use and three times more flight time than batteries. Fuel cells are a game-changer for the commercial UAV market.

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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