Intelligent Energy Holdings PLC says it has developed a prototype of a hydrogen fuel cell range extender for drones.
According to the company, the range extender addresses two of the biggest challenges for manufacturers of battery-powered drones: a longer flight time and fast re-fuel capabilities. The company will unveil the prototype on a drone at CES 2016, held Jan. 6-9 in Las Vegas.
With the combination of an ultra-lightweight fuel cell stack and a battery, the product offers up to several hours of drone flight time, rather than the typical average of 20 minutes. In addition, fuel cells can significantly reduce the downtime currently required for recharging between flights – from one to two hours to an average of two minutes, says Intelligent Energy.
In the last decade, the company says, it has worked with Boeing Phantom Works to power the world’s first manned fuel cell aircraft in commercial airspace and with Airbus for an auxiliary power unit.
For the past 14 months, it has independently tested drones with fuel cell and battery hybrid systems. Flight tests were conducted on two configurations: one powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and the other powered by a fuel cell-battery hybrid system. A camera was operated on the test flights and was found to record a steady image with no interruptions – a critical feature for commercial drone use, the company notes.
“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,” explains 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 refuel 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, 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,” Hughes says.