The FLASH project will further new hydrogen carrier technology developed at NREL as part of the HyMARC (Hydrogen Materials Advanced Research Consortium) project. The program is funded by a partnership of the DOE's Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office, NREL, and Honeywell.
Electric UAVs are seeing rapid adoption in industrial applications such as surveying, infrastructure inspection and security. Many of these applications previously required inefficient ground-based vehicles or hazardous use of piloted helicopters.
For short-range applications, UAVs have the potential to offer greater efficiency, reliability and precision compared with conventional combustion-driven aircraft. For long-range and heavy-payload applications, however, today's battery-powered electric UAVs fall short. The NREL and Honeywell collaboration seeks to show that hydrogen can help address these longer-duration, high-payload challenges.
"Today's long-range drones are typically powered by internal combustion engines. While they provide the required range that battery-powered electric UAVs lack, these engines have issues with excessive noise, vibration and emissions, including carbon emissions," said Katherine Hurst, NREL senior scientist and group manager.
"This is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate the performance of hydrogen storage materials that we developed in our laboratory together with Honeywell to fuel a real-life flying vehicle."
"This is a dream project for a national lab researcher," said Steve Christensen, one of the NREL leads on the project proposal.
"Honeywell has already built and tested devices that can use our materials, giving us the chance to drop our technology directly into their systems and move this promising drone fuel toward commercialization through collaborative research and development. We and our partners at DOE are very excited at this opportunity to see DOE's support of hydrogen technologies result in a market application."
"This partnership with NREL is the latest example of how Honeywell is driving the future of sustainable aviation," said Dave Shilliday, vice president and general manager, Urban Air Mobility and Uncrewed Aerial Systems, Honeywell Aerospace "... using hydrogen as a power source can also significantly expand the possibilities of UAVs beyond the limitations posed by battery-electric powertrains. Honeywell will work with NREL to develop the necessary hydrogen-related technology to contribute to the further growth of the industry."
The FLASH project is focused on a solid material that can rapidly release hydrogen gas for use by the fuel cell. The material has a high hydrogen capacity and can operate at low temperatures (approximately 100°C). This class of materials is highly versatile to industrial hydrogen delivery requirements.
If the NREL-Honeywell project is successful, FLASH will be qualified for future technological development in optimization, scaling, and cost reduction. This work supports decarbonization of the aviation sector and the creation of high-tech jobs in the United States. Some of the potential large-use cases for hydrogen-fueled UAVs include inspections of electric power lines, gas pipelines, solar panel farms, wind turbines, and other applications where flying on long missions, beyond the line of sight of the operator, would save money and improve reliability, lowering the cost of renewable energy applications.