Cella Energy, in collaboration with their partners L2 Aerospace, have successfully converted a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle to run on hydrogen.
Together L2 Aerospace and Cella Energy have developed a quiet, emission-free and lightweight power supply that is robust, can be made into any shape and has a shelf-life that can be measured in years.
On the last day of January 2014, scientists and engineers at Cella Energy’s laboratory in Oxford successfully tested their wing-shaped cartridge to provide hydrogen to a power a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Their partners, L2 Aerospace, a small high-tech company based in Florida, adapted the UAV to hold a small fuel cell which provided the electrical power to run the aircraft.
“Although there is more work to be done, we are confident that we can make a power supply that can supply three times the range of existing battery technology, a performance that we believe will enable us to take a profitable fraction of this growing market.”, says Cella CEO Stephen Bennington.
In a follow-up comment, the COO of L2 Aerospace, Jim Royston, added, “The market is largely military at the moment, but it is set up to move into civilian sectors when Aviation Authorities open civil airspace to UAV operations. This is going to be a premium and early market for Cella and L2 Aerospace, with the first non-military customers in security, border patrol, emergency response, fisheries and agriculture.”
The largest civilian market opportunity is expected to be in agriculture, where farmers will be able to use small unmanned aircraft to assess their crops’ readiness for harvest. But demand from industrial applications such as the surveying of pipelines and power cables, oil rigs, wind and solar farms, power stations and other plant is also predicted to be huge. Large freight companies like Amazon and DHL have also been testing UAVs for deliveries, an application that will bring this technology to every city and town in the developed world.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) have evaluated the economic impact of the civil UAV markets as totaling more than $13.6 billion in the first three years of integration and will grow sustainably for the foreseeable future to a cumulative $82.1 billion between 2015 and 2025 [source: The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States, AUVSI, March 2013]
The prototype Cella Energy cartridge has no moving parts and creates low-pressure hydrogen on demand. It is simple and robust and can be made into any shape, making it possible to utilize parts of the aircraft that are not used for fuel storage in conventional UAVs, in this case the wing. Cella is continuing to develop its cartridge with the aim of flying it at air shows this summer.
“Although an unmanned vehicle was chosen for this demonstration, this prototype really shows the ability of this technology to provide emission-free, quiet, lightweight-power. This and the fact that the cartridges can be stored without loss of power almost indefinitely, means that the markets for such technology are huge: ranging from emergency power systems, to electric scooters and portable electronics,” says Cella COO Kevin Brundish.
“The tests went exactly as planned”, says Cella project lead Arthur Lovell. “The whole system worked together beautifully, providing power to run the aircraft at the first attempt.”