Fuel Cell Drones: Unleashing the Power of Hydrogen
When most people think of drones, small battery-powered devices come to mind. Recently, however, researchers have integrated cutting-edge technology into drones that revolutionizes how they’re powered: hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen-powered drones hold the potential to not only decarbonize the world’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), but they have the upper arm when it comes to flight time, refueling options, and payload capacity.
In this article we’ll take you through everything you need to know about this exciting technology that promises to change the drone industry for decades to come.
What are Fuel Cell Drones?
Fuel cell drones share striking similarities to their battery-powered counterparts – but there is one major exception that sets them apart: the integration of a fuel cell stack capable of powering a larger motor. While the fundamental components of the drone remain unchanged – such as an HD camera, propellors, and drone body – fuel cell drones make use of state-of-the-art hydrogen technology to harness the power of hydrogen and oxygen in propelling themselves forward. The only waste product is pure water.
What Are the Advantages of Fuel Cell Drones?
Fuel Cell drones have an array of advantages over more conventional drones that are powered by lithium-ion battery.
Longer Flight Time
Fuel cell drones are the king of the skies when it comes to flight time. While battery-powered drones usually fly for around 22 to 29 minutes – drones powered by fuel cells can stay in the air for hours on end (there are even reports of fuel cell drones flying for over 5 hours). This makes them particularly spectacular in performing tasks that require long periods of operation – such as aerial surveillance, mapping and long-distance search and rescue missions.
Some fuel cell drones have even been used for a usually muddy activity undertaken by dogs: herding sheep. Mimicking the sound of dogs, these ‘autonomous barking drones’ were found in one study to ‘efficiently herd a thousand animals’ using a scientific animal flocking formula. While flying for 20-30 minutes would be impracticable for animal herding – the 5-hour flight time of a fuel cell hydrogen drone means farmers do their job more efficiently, effectively and over a greater expanse of land.
Higher Payload Capacity
Sick of your camera or sensors being too heavy for your drone? Fuel cell drones could solve your problem. Having a significantly higher payload capacity than conventional drones, fuel cell drones mean you can carry heavy professional equipment – like cinema-quality cameras, advanced sensors or scanners – without the worry of overweighing the device. This makes fuel cell drones perfectly suited to professional applications that require carrying specialized payloads – such as industrial inspections and scientific research.
Say goodbye to long wait times for recharging drone batteries – fuel cell drones are capable of refueling at lightning speed. While a typical battery-powered drone takes 60 to 90 minutes to completely recharge – fuel cell drones are capable of refueling in just a few minutes. This means less time wasted waiting for a short flying time, and more time soaring in the skies.
Reliability in Extreme Conditions
Fuel cell drones perform exceedingly well in places conventional drones may fail – such as extreme temperatures. Severe heat or freezing environments can quickly degrade a drone’s battery, rendering it less efficient. A fuel cell drone solves these problems by using technology that can withstand even the toughest environments. This holds massive potential for industries that need to operate drones in remote and harsh environments, such as desert oil rigs and or artic mines.
Fuel cell drones have the potential to revolutionize an entire industry. Offering longer flight times, quick refueling and higher payload capacity along with the ability to withstand extreme conditions – these drones are seen as the renewable energy solution people have been waiting for. Photographers can load heavier and more advanced camera equipment on the devices. Farmers can analyze their crop development and herd animals for longer, while health and safety inspectors can monitor industrial equipment in remote conditions and in harsh environments. All of this is thanks to the simple solution of integrating of small fuel cell stack on a commercial or consumer drone.
Interesting in learning more about fuel cell stacks? Check out Horizon Educational’s Ultimate Guide to Fuel Cells in 2023.