Honeywell and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have initiated a year-long partnership to develop and bring to market a cartridge-based hydrogen fuel storage solution specifically designed for Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
The collaboration, titled the "Fuel Additives for Solid Hydrogen (FLASH) Carriers in Electric Aviation" project, will enhance an innovative hydrogen carrier technology originally created at NREL under the Hydrogen Materials Advanced Research Consortium (HyMARC). Funding for this program stems from a joint effort between the DOE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office, NREL, and Honeywell.
Electric UAVs are increasingly being employed in sectors like surveying, infrastructure evaluation, and security, replacing the traditional methods that relied on ground vehicles or manned helicopters. While UAVs excel in short-range tasks by offering heightened precision, efficiency, and reliability over combustion-driven alternatives, they currently face limitations in long-range and heavy-duty applications, predominantly due to battery constraints.
Katherine Hurst, NREL senior scientist, highlighted the challenge: “Present-day long-range drones often depend on internal combustion engines, which, although capable of covering the distances that battery-powered UAVs cannot, come with their own set of challenges, including noise, vibrations, and harmful emissions.” She expressed enthusiasm about their collaboration with Honeywell, emphasizing its potential to propel laboratory-developed hydrogen storage solutions to practical applications.
Steve Christensen, an NREL project leader, called the undertaking a "dream project," noting the synergy between NREL's advancements and Honeywell's pre-existing systems. "Honeywell’s expertise enables us to integrate our technology seamlessly, accelerating the potential commercialization of this innovative drone fuel."
Dave Shilliday, Honeywell Aerospace's VP and GM of Urban Air Mobility and Uncrewed Aerial Systems, remarked on the collaboration's broader implications. "Our alliance with NREL underscores Honeywell’s commitment to sustainable aviation. Hydrogen's capabilities can revolutionize electric vertical take-off and landing systems, both in terms of range and endurance. Our joint effort aims to transcend the restrictions of battery-electric UAVs and further elevate the industry."
The FLASH initiative aspires to present a novel solution where efficient hydrogen storage feeds a fuel cell that in turn transforms hydrogen into electricity, powering UAV flights. The resulting system offers the promise of extended flight durations without the downsides of traditional combustion engines, such as noise and emissions. Furthermore, it opens the door for specialized UAV operations, such as atmospheric monitoring, where clean and quiet operations are pivotal.
A significant focus of the FLASH project is the development of a solid material capable of releasing hydrogen gas swiftly for the fuel cell. This substance boasts a remarkable hydrogen capacity and functions effectively even at lower temperatures (around 100°C), making it highly adaptable to industrial hydrogen supply needs.