Hon­ey­well announced this week, it is col­lab­o­rat­ing with the U.S Depart­ment of Energy’s (DOE’s) Nation­al Renew­able Ener­gy Lab­o­ra­to­ry (NREL), on a year-long col­lab­o­ra­tion to pro­to­type and sup­port the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of a car­tridge-based hydro­gen fuel stor­age solu­tion for Uncrewed Aer­i­al Vehi­cles (UAVs), reports a press release.

The release explains, “Hon­ey­well is to pro­vide tech­no­log­i­cal exper­tise, test­ing for fuel car­tridge tech­nol­o­gy, sup­ply chain sup­port, pro­to­typ­ing and fuel cell eval­u­a­tion to qual­i­fy for the ‘Fuel Addi­tives for Sol­id Hydro­gen (FLASH) Car­ri­ers in Elec­tric Avi­a­tion’ project.”

This FLASH project will mature a new hydro­gen car­ri­er tech­nol­o­gy devel­oped at NREL as part of the HyMARC (Hydro­gen Mate­ri­als Advanced Research Con­sor­tium) pro­gram. The project is fund­ed by a part­ner­ship of the DOE’s Hydro­gen and Fuel Cell Tech­nolo­gies Office, NREL, along­side Hon­ey­well.

The release con­tin­ues, “Elec­tric UAVs are see­ing rapid adop­tion in indus­tri­al appli­ca­tions such as sur­vey­ing, infra­struc­ture inspec­tion and secu­ri­ty. Many of these appli­ca­tions pre­vi­ous­ly required inef­fi­cient ground-based vehi­cles or haz­ardous use of pilot­ed heli­copters.”

And goes on, “For short-range appli­ca­tions, UAVs have the poten­tial to offer greater effi­cien­cy, reli­a­bil­i­ty and pre­ci­sion com­pared with con­ven­tion­al com­bus­tion-dri­ven air­craft. For long-range and heavy-pay­load appli­ca­tions, how­ev­er, bat­tery-pow­ered elec­tric UAVs today fall short. The NREL and Hon­ey­well col­lab­o­ra­tion seeks to prove that hydro­gen can help address these longer-dura­tion, high-pay­load chal­lenges.”

Kather­ine Hurst

Kather­ine Hurst, NREL Senior Sci­en­tist and Group Man­ag­er, com­ment­ed, “Today’s long-range drones are typ­i­cal­ly pow­ered by inter­nal com­bus­tion engines. 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.”

She con­tin­ued, “This is an excit­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty to demon­strate the per­for­mance of hydro­gen stor­age mate­ri­als that we devel­oped in our lab­o­ra­to­ry togeth­er with Hon­ey­well to fuel a real-life fly­ing vehi­cle.”

Steve Chris­tensen, one of NREL Leads on the pro­gram pro­pos­al, added, “This is a dream project for a nation­al lab researcher. 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 com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion through col­lab­o­ra­tive research and devel­op­ment.”

The FLASH pro­gram aims to deliv­er an alter­na­tive approach in which “effi­cient and long-last­ing hydro­gen stor­age is cou­pled to a fuel cell that con­verts hydro­gen to elec­tric­i­ty to pow­er elec­tric UAV flight.” This result­ing sys­tem enables long-range flights, but with­out the noise and tail-pipe emis­sions of com­bus­tion engines. It will also help sen­si­tive drone appli­ca­tions like atmos­pher­ic mon­i­tor­ing, where “exhaust gas­es and rum­bling engines would reduce per­for­mance.”

The project is focused on a sol­id mate­r­i­al that can rapid­ly release hydro­gen gas for use by the fuel cell. The mate­r­i­al has a high hydro­gen capac­i­ty and can oper­ate at low tem­per­a­tures (approx­i­mate­ly 100°C). This class of mate­ri­als is high­ly ver­sa­tile to indus­tri­al hydro­gen deliv­ery require­ments.

Dave Shill­i­day

Dave Shill­i­day, VP and Gen­er­al Man­ag­er of Urban Air Mobil­i­ty and Uncrewed Aer­i­al Sys­tems at Hon­ey­well Aero­space, remarked, “The col­lab­o­ra­tion with NREL is the lat­est exam­ple of how Hon­ey­well is dri­ving the future of sus­tain­able avi­a­tion. Hydro­gen can offer sig­nif­i­cant advan­tages for eVTOL sys­tems in terms of endurance and range, while sig­nif­i­cant­ly expand­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of UAVs beyond the lim­i­ta­tions posed by bat­tery-elec­tric pow­er­trains.”

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(Top image: Hon­ey­well)