World's First Fuel Cell Drone Unveiled


Published May 13, 2015 11:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

Singaporean company Horizon Energy Systems (HES) unveiled HYCOPTER in Atlanta (AUVSI 2015) last week. HYCOPTER is the world's first hydrogen fuel cell powered multi-rotor UAV, and is being readied for a record flight endurance of four hours, or around eight to 10 times the average flight duration of equivalent systems today. 

Unlike any other rotorcraft, HYCOPTER makes use of its frame structure to store energy in the form of hydrogen instead of air, eliminating energy storage weight. In the case of this platform, the equivalent energy of 3kg (6.6 pounds) of lithium batteries is stored as 120g (0.26 pounds) of hydrogen. With less lift power required, HYCOPTER's ultra-light fuel cell turns 120g gas stored inside its structural frame into four hours of electricity to power its rotors.

Aerial survey jobs will become materially cheaper/faster and drone delivery over longer distances, more feasible, says HES. The drone is suited to border patrol, infrastructure inspection and survey applications.

“Where battery performance limits the effective use of these promising unmanned systems, HES' next-generation fuel cell systems improve versatility and open new mission possibilities for smaller low altitude aircraft, typically reserved for larger, higher altitude and more expensive aircraft.”

The special fuel cell powering HYCOPTER was designed by  Horizon Energy Systems (HES), which also recently announced a new solid chemical hydrogen on demand fuel cell able to achieve up to 700Wh/kg at system level. HES supplies the world's highest performance and lightest fuel cells, achieving orders of magnitude beyond what is possible elsewhere today when it comes to energy storage, says the company.

"By removing the design silos that typically separate the energy storage component from the UAV frame design teams - we opened up a whole new category in the drone market, between battery power and combustion power drones," said Taras Wankewycz, Group Chief Executive Officer. "Imagine smaller, lower cost, low-altitude electric aircraft now able to cover the same ground and perform similar jobs as larger, combustion engine, higher altitude aircraft with multi-million dollar payloads".

The design has led to the start of Horizon Unmanned Systems (HUS), sister company of Horizon Energy Systems working to apply lightweight fuel cells towards optimized platforms and vehicles. HUS will also be embedding proprietary GPS-independent, precision navigation and collision avoidance technologies, in order to match the need for off-grid, remote area use of such power-autonomous UAVs.