A new drone made by Israeli company HevenDrones could revolutionize defense and commercial drone uses.
The firm’s hydrogen-powered H2D55 Drone is five times more energy efficient than traditional lithium battery-powered drones and can fly for 100 minutes with a payload of seven kilograms (15 pounds), according to the company.
The drone, which was unveiled in February at Abu Dhabi’s IDEX (International Defence Exhibition and Conference), can be used for a wide range of defense and commercial applications, from emergency responses to last-mile delivery and intelligence-gathering missions.
Bentzion Levinson, founder and CEO of HevenDrones, told JNS the company was founded three-and-a-half years ago, based on the concept of seeing drones not merely as flying cameras but also as flying robots.
The vast majority of drones currently act as flying cameras, he said, identifying problems, gathering information over a battlefield or spotting hazards like fires—all highly important functions.
“The problem is limiting drones to being flying sensors. We wanted to develop flying robots that can do things from the sky, like lifting larger payloads over larger distances,” he said. “We asked, how can relatively small drones carry significant payloads for longer?”
The answer, Levinson and his team found, was in the battery.
With drones already starting to play greater functions, such as Amazon’s delivery project, Levinson’s company identified a key bottleneck: limited flight time.
“We saw two problems. The first is the range, usually capped at around 10 kilometers and sometimes shorter. The second is the need to get multiple drones to work as a swarm. That creates value and takes the person out of the loop. If you have to come back to change batteries every 30 to 40 minutes, that has less value,” he said.
The company gathered energy experts and concluded that hydrogen is the best power source for UAV fuel cells.
‘Five times the flight speed and 10 times the range’
HevenDrones works with the Israeli Defense Ministry and has become its supplier of hydrogen-powered drones after demonstrating proof of concept for the ministry in November.
The H2D55 Drone is the company’s first product line. It is planning two additional models that can take heavier payloads greater distances.
Levinson described the technology as a game-changer.
“The hydrogen allows for much longer flights, for massive increases in hovering and maneuvering. We achieved five times the flight speed and 10 times the range,” he said.
The drones can take any kind of payload, for example, universal containers and logistic packages.
The promise of hydrogen fuel has been talked about by various industries for the past 20 years, so far with few tangible results. There are some hydrogen-powered cars on the market but they have yet to make major inroads.
Levinson said issues of easy access to hydrogen fuel have until now formed a main challenge.
To overcome this, HevenDrones teamed up with supply chain partners, including American energy company Plug Power, which creates lightweight hydrogen fuel cells.
“Drones have the ability to lead the hydrogen revolution. The main challenge goes back to the supply chain,” said Levinson. “Customers need 24/7 resupply.”
To overcome this challenge, the company offers three options: resupplying the customer directly with fuel tanks, a portable technology in which the tanks are pressurized by clients such as hospitals, and an option in which clients create their own hydrogen using nothing more than running water and electricity—a solution Levinson described as a “real breakthrough.”
“Any army base or offshore energy rig can use electricity and running water to create energy out of thin air,” he said.
This enables automated refueling systems to come online. “This technology is here. The final stages of it are being commercialized,” said Levinson.
The environmental benefits of this power source are clear, he added.
The company is working with a number of clients worldwide. Levinson said the journey ahead is exciting.
“As regulation and capabilities grow, more and more problems will be solved by these flying robots,” he said.