Honeywell has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to prototype and commercialize a cartridge-based hydrogen fuel storage solution for Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for a year and qualify for the Fuel Additives for Solid Hydrogen (FLASH) Carriers in Electric Aviation project.
“Honeywell has already built and tested devices that can use our materials, giving us the chance to drop our technology directly into their systems and move this promising drone fuel toward commercialization through collaborative research and development,” said Steve Christensen, one of the NREL leads on the project proposal.
The FLASH project will mature a new hydrogen carrier technology developed at NREL as part of the HyMARC (Hydrogen Materials Advanced Research Consortium) project. The program is funded by a partnership of the DOE's Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office, NREL, and Honeywell.
The FLASH project helps offer an alternative method by coupling hydrogen storage to a fuel cell, which converts hydrogen to electricity to power electric UAV flight. The resulting system will not only assist long-range flights without the noise and tail-pipe emissions of combustion engines but also enable sensitive drone applications like atmospheric monitoring, in which exhaust gases and rumbling engines reduce performance.
The FLASH project focuses on a solid material that has a high hydrogen capacity and operates at a low temperature, approximately 100°C, to release hydrogen gas for use by the fuel cell.
Electric UAVs are being adopted in industrial applications like surveying, infrastructure inspection, and security, the majority of which required inefficient ground-based vehicles or the hazardous use of piloted helicopters.
"Today's long-range drones are typically powered by internal combustion engines,” said Katherine Hurst, NREL senior scientist and group manager. “While they provide the required range that battery-powered electric UAVs lack, these engines have issues with excessive noise, vibration, and emissions, including carbon emissions."
While UAVs have the potential to offer greater efficiency, reliability, and precision as compared to conventional combustion-driven aircraft for short-range applications, battery-powered electric UAVs do not meet expectations for long-range and heavy-payload applications. With the collaboration, hydrogen can help address the longer-duration, high-payload challenges.
"Hydrogen can offer significant advantages for electric vertical take-off and landing systems in terms of endurance and range,” said Dave Shilliday, Vice President and General Manager of Urban Air Mobility and Uncrewed Aerial Systems, Honeywell Aerospace. “Additionally, using hydrogen as a power source can also significantly expand the possibilities of UAVs beyond the limitations posed by battery-electric powertrains."