New drone uses hydrogen fuel cells to fly longer

One of the most common challenges drone developers face is how to make them fly longer.

Energy technology company,Intelligent Energy, has now come up with a solution to this problem with its prototype hydrogen fuel cell powered range extender for drones. The range extender addresses not only the issue of longer flight time, but also fast re-fuel capabilities.

Intelligent Energy's prototype drone. (Image Credit: Business Wire)
Intelligent Energy’s prototype drone. (Image Credit: Business Wire)

Intelligent Energy combined an ultra-lightweight fuel cell stack with a battery in order to provide drones with several hours of flight time, instead of the typical 20 minutes maximum flight times seen in so many products today. Fuel cells can also reduce the downtime currently required for recharging between flights – from almost two hours to an average of two minutes.

“Drones are one of the most exciting new technologies. Even with advanced batteries their value is limited. For commercial use, they need to offer better flight times and range,” said Julian Hughes, Group Business Development Director and Acting Managing Director for Intelligent Energy’s Consumer Electronics Division. “That will all become possible with the release of our range extender platform. A longer flight time coupled with a quick re-fuel opens a wide range of new commercial possibilities for businesses such as drones for inspection of offshore platforms, search and rescue, high quality aerial photography, precision agriculture and parcel delivery and more. Given we also have the ability to tailor solutions to customer requirements, this could completely revolutionize the potential of drone technology.”

Intelligent Energy has been working with Boeing Phantom Works for the past 10 years to power the world’s first manned fuel cell aircraft in commercial airspace and with Airbus for an auxiliary power unit. Over the past 14 months it has started its separate mission: trying to power drones with fuel cell and battery hybrid systems.

The company conducted two sets of flight tests: one solely powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and another powered by a fuel cell-battery hybrid system.

Intelligent Energy will unveil its prototype of the fuel cell range extender on a drone at CES 2016, January 6-9 in Las Vegas.


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