Fuel cell keeps drones in flight for hours, not minutes

A prototype will be exhibited at CES 2016

A British company says it may have a solution to one of the most frustrating issues of drone flying: short battery life.

In tests, a DJI Matrice 100 drone fitted with a hydrogen fuel cell from Intelligent Energy was able to stay in flight for more than an hour -- significantly longer than the 20 minutes available with its standard battery.

Hydrogen fuel cells convert hydrogen gas into electricity through a chemical process that has water vapor as its only by-product. The fresh fuel comes in cartridges, and because swapping out a cartridge takes a matter of seconds, the drone can be back up in the air quickly when it gets low on fuel.

"There’s an obvious barrier in battery life, and we saw an obvious need to increase that," said Julian Hughes, head of the company's consumer electronics division, in an interview.

151214 uav fuel cell 1 Intelligent Energy

A DJI drone with a prototype Intelligent Energy fuel cell used in testing by the company.

To date, Intelligent Energy has completed a series of flights with prototypes. One used just the fuel cell and the other was a hybrid in which the fuel cell constantly charged a conventional battery.

The latter is a similar arrangement to the way fuel cell-based cars work and has some advantages despite being more complicated.

While the fuel cell can provide a constant stream of energy, it cannot respond to momentary demands for more power that might be required by the drone, for example as it tries to battle a strong gust of wind.

Hughes said drones have successfully flown with both power packs and the company is now evaluating which might be better.

Intelligent Energy will display the results of its engineering work at January's CES in Las Vegas. The company hopes it will be able to attract drone manufacturers to offer the hydrogen fuel cell power source as an option. It's not planning an after-market product for consumers.

Intelligent Energy already has one hydrogen fuel cell on the market for consumers. The Upp product is a portable USB charging device that can replenish portable gadgets. Fuel cartridges are sold across the U.K.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags drones

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?