A project to develop a hydrogen fuel cell powered multi-rotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) – commonly known as a drone – has achieved a record 70 minutes of continuous flight with a 5kg payload.

The test flight time beat the original target of 60-minutes and claims to be the first ever hour-long flight for hydrogen drones with a 5kg payload.

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

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

“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,” Reed continued. 

The project will complete in early 2019 with BATCAM carrying out real-world end-user trials. Successful completion of the project will bring major benefits for those involved in commercial UAV usage in sectors such as mining, agriculture, surveying and motioning, security and emergency services.

Intelligent Energy has completed the integration work and BATCAM has advised on design requirements, project targets and has piloted the test flights. The company is commissioning and trialling a user-friendly, cost-effective, portable refuelling solutions from NanoSUN, a specialist supplier of hydrogen fuel systems.

“The advantage of fuel cells over batteries for our customers are clear; fast refuel, no vibration, quiet operation, zero emission at point of use and three time more flight time than batteries,” said David Woolhouse, CEO at Intelligent Energy.

“Fuel cells are a game-changer for the commercial UAV market,” Woolhouse concluded.