A hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered multi-rotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has flown for 70 minutes with a 5kg payload, beating its original target of an hour.

The companies involved say this is a “new benchmark” for flight time and payload in the commercial UAV industry.

Project RACHEL, supported by Innovate UK, is led by venture engineering company Productiv on behalf of UAV filming specialists BATCAM. The UAV is powered by fuel cells from Intelligent Energy.

The project will complete early in 2019 with BATCAM carrying out end-user trials.

Successful completion of the project will bring major benefits for those involved in commercial UAV usage, its participants say. It could benefit sectors such as mining, agriculture, surveying and monitoring, security and emergency services.

Hydrogen power

Jonathan Reed of Productiv commented: “The effectiveness of UAVs is limited by their flight time and payload capacity.  This innovation opens up new opportunities for commercial UAV operators.

“Operators need longer flight times than can be delivered with batteries and are therefore seeking alternative power sources with higher power density.  Hydrogen power has huge potential here, and we anticipate a significant growth in the market for hydrogen-powered UAVs in the next few years.”

Jon Hurndall, CEO of BATCAM, commented: “It is great to see product innovation and continued development with hydrogen fuel cells for UAVs – these represent a viable alternative to Lithium Polymer batteries which are not only difficult and costly to transport internationally but largely inefficient in comparison to hydrogen. A 60-minute-plus flight time with a large payload creates many opportunities, not only with our existing broadcast clients but in other commercial markets and sectors. We are eager to explore these opportunities in 2019.”

David Woolhouse, CEO at Intelligent Energy, said: “The advantages of fuel cells over batteries for our customers are clear; fast refuel, no vibration, quiet operation, zero emission at point of use and three times more flight time than batteries. Fuel cells are a game-changer for the commercial UAV market.”

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