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The effectiveness of unmanned aerial vehicles is limited by their flight time and payload capacity. Longer flight times are often needed and alternative power sources with higher power density are sought by operators. Hydrogen-powered UAVs could be the solution, for overcoming limited flight times of conventional UAV power sources.
A hydrogen fuel cell powered UAV has recently 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 commercial UAV industry.
The Lithium Polymer battery-powered UAVs allows around 12 minutes of useable flight.
The 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-liter cylinder containing hydrogen gas compressed to 300 bar.
The hydrogen fuel cell powered multi-rotor UAV is part of the Project RACHEL, supported by Innovate UK, and led by venture engineering company Productiv on behalf of the UK UAV filming specialists BATCAM.
Even with a large payload, the power density of the design provides optimal lift and maneuverability.
Successful completion of the project early in 2019 could bring major benefits in commercial UAV usage, in sectors such as mining, agriculture, surveying and monitoring, security and emergency services, according to
Jon Hurndall, CEO of BATCAM, said the hydrogen fuel cells 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.”
David Woolhouse, CEO at 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.”