Researchers affiliated with the Micro Air Vehicle Laboratory (MAVLab) at the technical university in Delft, The Netherlands have successfully conducted a first test flight from a Coast Guard ship with a special hybrid hydrogen drone.
Dutch hybrid hydrogen drone makes successful test flight
The Dutch hybrid hydrogen drone, officially known as the NederDrone is not only hybrid in its propulsion system, using both batteries and hydrogen. It is also hybrid in its design, combining vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) with a fixed-wing design for extra distance and longer flight times.
What made this test flight so special is that the excess energy generated by the hydrogen system was used to recharge the drone’s batteries mid-flight. This results in an extra-long flight time. According to the researchers, the test flight is an important step towards making aviation more sustainable.
Bart Remes, project leader of the Micro Aerial Vehicle Lab (MAVLab) at TU Delft said:
“We have developed a drone that takes off and lands vertically using hydrogen and a battery, and during horizontal flight on hydrogen via a fuel cell, the battery again. charges for the vertical landing. Thanks to the fixed-wing design and the use of hydrogen, the drone can remain in level flight for hours. ”
The NederDrone weighs around 29 pounds including fuel cell and batteries and has a wingspan of roughly ten feet.
For increased safety, the powertrain is redundant. The drone flies with 12 engines, and can even land safely on the aft deck of a ship even in the event of failure of some of the engines.
Sustainable flying with the NederDrone
The drone is equipped with a 300 bar 6.8-liter carbon composite hydrogen cylinder. The cylinder supplies the hydrogen at low pressure to the 800-watt fuel cell, which converts the hydrogen into electricity. The only emission that is released is oxygen and water vapors. In addition to the fuel cell that supplies electricity to the engines, there is also a set of batteries that, together with the fuel cell, provide the engines with extra energy during vertical take-off and landing.
The knowledge gained in the development of the drone can be used to make aviation greener. Henri Werij, dean of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft says:
“One of the most important aspects of this research is the fact that flights are made with hydrogen. Hydrogen is seen worldwide as one of the main contenders for creating a green, sustainable fuel for aviation. ”
Maritime applications for hydrogen drone
Drones are already regularly used over land, but at sea, there are many additional challenges. Wind, saltwater, a moving ship with limited possibilities for ascent and landing – all these dynamic conditions place high demands on the drone. That is why the Dutch hydrogen drone was not only tested in a wind tunnel but also from ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy and Coast Guard Netherlands, sailing on the high seas off the Dutch coast.
Thanks to the combination of the wings and a hydrogen cylinder and battery, the NederDrone was able to remain in the air for more than 3.5 hours during the first test flights and make a stable flight. With these features, the drone can support reconnaissance and inspection tasks.
“Introducing new technologies requires a more exploratory approach than we are used to. The current generation of young people is already being educated in this way of learning and trying,” Captain-lieutenant at sea Pieter Blank said. “For us, they are the personnel of the future. That is why we are fully committed to working with others to bring these technologies into operational applications. As an innovator at the Royal Netherlands Navy and Coastguard Netherlands, I am proud of this collaboration with TU Delft. The development of the hydrogen maritime drone is a genuine technical breakthrough. That promises something for the future. ”
The MAVLab is not the only body experimenting with hydrogen-powered drones. At home and abroad, various parties are engaged in research into flying on hydrogen, as a prelude to emission-free aviation. NLR, for example, is experimenting with the hydrogen-powered drone HYDRA. And the Spanish company Quaternium set a record this spring by using a hydrogen-powered multi-rotor drone for over eight hours.
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