Intelligent Energy joins list of hydrogen fuel UAS developers

By Luke Geiver | December 17, 2015

U.K.-based Intelligent Energy Holdings will showcase its new hydrogen fuel cell-powered unmanned aircraft system (UAS) at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company recently released information on its new prototype system that utilizes hydrogen fuel cells to extend the flight duration capabilities of sUAS. According to the company, the system can increase the flight duration time of a sUAV by several hours. The recharge time for the system’s battery can also be reduced from one to two hours to approximately two minutes.

Intelligent Energy has already tested and proven its hydrogen fuel cell know-how on manned systems. The company has worked with Boeing to complete the world’s first manned fuel cell aircraft flight.

“Drones are one of the most exciting new technologies. Even with advanced batteries their value is limited,” said Julian Hughes, group business development director and acting manager for the company’s consumer electronics division. Hughes said for commercial use, sUAVs need to have longer flight times. “That will all become possible with the release of our range extender platform.”

For more than a year, the company has independently tested two systems: a hybrid system of a fuel cell and a battery, and another with just a hydrogen fuel cell system.

Intelligent Energy is also working to create a cell phone battery charging system that could allow cell phone users to go up to one week without charging their phones.

Intelligent Energy isn’t the only entity pursuing hydrogen fuel cell battery and power options for UAVs. In 2006, Georgia Tech Research Institute invested in research to test a hydrogen-powered UAV.

In May, at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle’s System International’s annual event, Horizon Unmanned Systems unveiled its HYCOPTER system, a hydrogen fuel cell powered multirotor UAV. The system can fly for four hours and stores its hydrogen fuel within the frame of the UAV.

In July, Canadian-based EnergyOr Technologies Inc., announced it had recorded what it believed to be a world-record flight time for a multirotor. The system flew for 3 hours and 43 minutes and was powered with a hydrogen fuel cell system.

Cella Energy, a U.K.-based firm that has opened a research lab at a NASA facility in Florida, is also in the hydrogen power for UAS space. Cella has created a process to pelletize hydrogen fuel so that it may be used to power lightweight UAVs. The system weighs roughly one-third of a traditional set-up.