H3 Dynamics in France has revealed its self-contained hydrogen propulsion pods for retrofit or line fit to drones and airplanes. They give gigantic range and endurance figures without heavy batteries.
World record endurance flights of multi-copter drones were compared in 2020. They included a vehicle running on pure battery power (1 hour, 51 minutes), a 16-liter gasoline-electric hybrid system (10 hours, 14 minutes), and a hideously ugly hydrogen fuel cell system fed by 6 liters of gas (12 hours, 7 minutes). This indicated that hydrogen fuel stands the way ahead of batteries when it comes to endurance and range.
Hydrogen may be lighter than batteries but it takes a lot of space which can be used for cargo.
Airbus is focusing on self-contained end-to-end hydrogen propulsion systems for its future zero-emissions airliners. Fully swappable units that can be popped on and off for maintenance without interrupting an aircraft’s flight schedule.
They have developed a lightweight, aerodynamic hydrogen propulsion nacelle containing a hydrogen tank, fuel cell system, electric motor, and propeller; the whole powertrain.
Right now, it’s sized to be relevant to the commercial fixed-wing drone market; inspection, reconnaissance, scientific and emergency-zone aircraft. It’s been tested on a 25-kg (55-lb) fixed-wing cargo drone using two pods, and H3 Dynamics estimates a massive 350-km (217-mile) range running on gaseous hydrogen.
Next up is VTOL, which presents its own challenges. H3 has teamed up with Australian eVTOL drone company Carbonix to begin developing a VTOL hydrogen cargo and commercial drone based on a lift-and-cruise layout.
Then enters liquid hydrogen. The company has been working with the Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace (ISAE-SUPAERO) in Toulouse on cryogenic liquid H2 systems since 2019, and the two groups aim to fly a hydrogen aircraft clean across the Atlantic Ocean within two years.
Lastly, there’s manned flight. The company is working toward a larger, more powerful version of its propulsion pods that can be retrofitted to a two-to-four-seat passenger plane, and it’s hoping to get one airborne by the end of 2023.
H3 is starting small, safe, and free from regulatory red tape by putting thousands of data-gathering hours on commercial drone airframes.