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Hydrogen-powered Drones Hope to Soar High

Image courtesy of Heven Drones Heven Drones' HD255 uses hydrogen fuel cells in place of batteries.
Heven Drones expects hydrogen-powered drones, such as its new HD255, to meet demand for drones capable of flying longer distances with heavier payloads than battery-powered drones.
Israeli company banking on hydrogen for drones requiring longer distances, higher payloads.

Batteries are the primary power for drones, but existing battery technology has limits in supplying enough energy to run drones any appreciable amount of time or distance. An Israel-based company called HevenDrones has developed drones that run on hydrogen, which promises longer airtimes and distances than available battery power.

The company, called HevenDrones, recently launched its first hydrogen-powered drone for commercial use, called the HD255. According to HevenDrones, this craft can fly for 100 minutes with a payload capacity of 100 lb. The HD255 is the first of several hydrogen-powered drones the company hopes to bring to market this year.

Bentzion Levinson, Founder & CEO of HevenDrones, said that while his company offers battery-powered drones, developing drones that run on hydrogen could fill a market need for drones that operate over longer distances and thus require longer runtimes.

“Existing battery-powered drones are limited to payloads of about 70 lb with runtimes of no more than 30 to 40 minutes,” Levinson told Design News in a recent interview. “That is what brought us to hydrogen.”

Some of the applications Levinson is envisioning for the longer-range drones include mining and construction, shipping, homeland security, and other industrial uses.

HevenDrones has been developing hydrogen drone technology for several years. According to Levinson, some of the key challenges included ensuring that the technology would be safe, as well as setting up an infrastructure to give drone users access to hydrogen supplies.

Drone Power from Hydrogen

One challenge was developing and deploying hydrogen fuel cell technology. To accomplish this, HevenDrones announced a partnership in October 2021 with PlugPower to jointly hydrogen fuel cell powered heavy-lift actionable drones and related support equipment and infrastructure.

According to Levinson, Heven Drones is taking a multi-tiered approach to supplying hydrogen. First, HevenDrones will supply customers with full hydrogen tanks. The company is also supplying a portable hydrogen refueling system for field use. Another approach HevenDrones is working on is an electrolyzer that, once hooked up to water and electricity, can produce hydrogen.

According to Levinson, HevenDrones has conducted a number of safety tests on the hydrogen storage cells in the drones, including drop tests, to make sure there is no leakage or risk of explosion. The company is also working with aviation agencies in various countries, including the FAA in the U.S., to ensure the drones meet safety standards.

Levinson conceded that while the cost of the hydrogen-powered drones will be higher than their battery-powered counterparts, the overall ownership costs could be less in the long run as there are no batteries to replace.

Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor for Design News covering the electronics beat. He has many years of experience covering developments in components, semiconductors, subsystems, power, and other facets of electronics from both a business/supply-chain and technology perspective. He can be reached at [email protected]

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