Power Play

Are hydrogen fuel cells the next step for drone propulsion? The Bionic Eye investigated the potential transition from LiPo batteries to Hydrogen. Both power sources present distinct challenges, but we aimed to demonstrate that technological advancements could make the switch commercially feasible.


Nearly all drones today use electric propulsion, which is relatively quiet and clean to use. LiPo batteries are the obvious choice to drive the motors, but they suffer from various issues due to their being temperature-critical. If cold, they lose power quickly and sharply, and the times to recharge them and the availability of mains power on location mean that you have to have numerous battery packs to allow filming all day.
As an alternative, hydrogen fuel cells have recently matured to deliver the power required for large drones to fly. Still, there is more hardware to mount to the drone, making it difficult to add a payload or sensor with standard configuration drones. The other challenge is that the way Hydrogen fuel cells deliver power is a different power profile to Lipo batteries; therefore, it took much work to make the frame bigger. So, the two challenges were a frame to allow the hydrogen hardware, space for the payload, and a drone configuration to suit the hydrogen power profile.


We decided that the hexacopter configuration was the best choice because it offered motor redundancy, a more balanced power demand, and a more stable flight platform. We created 3D models of the proposed hydrogen fuel cell and explored various configurations for the fuel cell, C2 control, and payload options. To support the hydrogen system, we reinforced the airframe with additional booms, which added rigidity to the frame.


Power Output


Minutes To Refuel


Line Closures


Minutes Endurance


The prototype worked very well, offering a robust, lightweight airframe so effective that the client could configure the drone with either propulsion via traditional LiPo battery or hydrogen fuel cells as each customer and task demanded. In flight tests, the drone could stay airborne for over 85 minutes with Lipo power and over 3 hours with hydrogen power. The solution worked so well on the first development that it became a commercial product.

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