AVIATION FUEL SYSTEMS Hydrogen Gives New Lift to UAVs

Trials with hydrogen fuel cell power for commercial unmanned aerial vehicles have yielded up to five times the flight time for a 5kg payload.

❱ ❱ High pressure hydrogen fuel provides longer flight times for commercial unmanned aerial vehicles

commercial UAV industry. Supported by Innovate UK, the project is being led by engineering company Productiv on behalf of a UK UAV filming specialists, Batcam. The UAV is powered by fuel cells from Intelligent Energy, whose team has significant expertise and a proven track record in producing some of the world’s lightest and most power-dense fuel cell stacks for commercial UAVs.


FIVE-FOLD FLIGHT TIME INCREASE The initial target of the project was to achieve 60 minutes of continuous flight while carrying a 5 kg payload. The Lithium Polymer batteries previously used to power the filming company’s UAVs allow around 12 minutes of useable flight. A recent test of the purpose-built fuel cell powered UAV saw it fly for an uninterrupted 70 minutes carrying a 5 kg payload. This was achieved on a UAV with below 20 kg maximum take-off mass, using a 6-litre cylinder containing hydrogen gas compressed to 300 bar. Having completed this test, the project is scheduled to conclude during 2019 with Batcam carrying out real-world end-user trials. Successful completion of the project will bring major benefits for those involved in commercial UAV usage, in sectors such as mining, agriculture, surveying and monitoring, security and the emergency services.

FROM PILOT TO PRODUCTION Intelligent Energy has completed the integration work and Batcam has advised on design requirements, project targets and has piloted the test flights. In addition, Intelligent Energy is commissioning and trialling a user-friendly, cost-effective,

project to develop a hydrogen fuel cell powered multi-rotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has beaten its original test flight target of 60 minutes with a 5 kg payload, setting a new benchmark for flight time and payload in the

❱ ❱ Reduced emissions and longer flight times are two of the main advantages of Hydrogen fuel cell power in the UAV market

portable refuelling system from NanoSUN, a specialist supplier of hydrogen fuel systems. Productiv’s role includes programme management, business model planning, design for manufacture and supply chain optimisation, with the aim of having all components sourced within the UK. According to Jonathan Reed of Productiv, the effectiveness

of UAVs is limited by their flight time and payload capacity and so 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,”he says. Hydrogen power has huge potential in this respect and

Productiv anticipates a significant growth in the market for hydrogen-powered UAVs in the next few years. Product innovation and continuing development with

hydrogen fuel cells for UAVs represent a viable alternative to Lithium Polymer batteries which are not only difficult and costly to transport internationally, but largely inefficient in comparison to hydrogen, according to Batcam’s CEO, Jon Hurndall. “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 so we are eager to explore these opportunities in 2019,” he says. According to David Woolhouse of Intelligent Energy, the

advantages of fuel cells over batteries are clear. “Fuel cells offer fast refuelling, no vibration, quiet operation, zero emissions at the point of use and three times more flight time than batteries, these are significant advantages for the commercial UAV market,” he concludes.

Aerospace Test & Validation Vol 2 No. 1 /// 9

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