Hydrogen fuel cell-powered drone sets new flight time record

By Patrick C. Miller | February 15, 2019

MetaVista Inc., a South Korean advanced power systems company, last month conducted a record-breaking test flight of nearly 11 hours with a quadcopter drone using an Intelligent Energy fuel cell module.

MetaVista developed the ultra-light-weight liquid hydrogen storage tank to specifically work with Intelligent Energy’s fuel cell. The MetaVista liquid hydrogen system—coupled with the Intelligent Energy’s technology—provides 1,865 watt-hour per kilogram (Wh/kg) energy density.

“Our aim was to significantly increase the flight time for commercial UAV operators,” said Jong Baik, MetaVista CEO. “The Intelligent Energy team has worked closely with us and we are delighted to be working with them. Together with our liquid hydrogen production and storage expertise, it has proved to be a successful partnership.” 

Intelligent Energy—a fuel cell engineering company based in Loughborough, UK—provided its 650-Watt lightweight fuel cell power module for the test to achieve what it believes is the longest flight time (10 hours and 50 minutes) of its kind. MetaVista used 390 grams of liquid hydrogen in a specially designed six-liter cylinder.

“We have been focused for some time on developing lightweight, robust fuel cell power modules for UAVs that can offer commercial users something that batteries simply cannot—significantly longer flight time,” said David Woolhouse, Intelligent Energy CEO. “We are pleased to have worked with MetaVista on this test flight, which has demonstrated that liquid hydrogen can increase that flight time further still when compared to compressed hydrogen—three times longer!”

According to Intelligent Energy, fuel cells are an ideal power choice for commercial and military UAVs because they offer significantly longer flight times when compared to traditional batteries. The company has products suitable for drones in the 11 to 44 pounds weight range currently available to the commercial UAV market.