Concept: Japanese drone startup Drone Works has partnered with Singapore’s air mobility technology startup H3 Dynamics to develop a hydrogen-powered drone. The drone is equipped with H3 Dynamics’ Aerostak hydrogen fuel cell system that includes a special grade proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell stack, control electronics, lightweight casings with integrated air cooling fans, and a hybrid lithium polymer (LiPo)-compatible hybrid electronic board. The lightweight hydrogen-powered drone has a longer flight time than lithium battery-powered drones.
Nature of Disruption: The fuel cells in the Aerostak hydrogen fuel cell system are cooled by an integrated fan and require a hydrogen input pressure of 0.6 to 0.8 bar. The drone is equipped with a small composite container for storing high-pressure hydrogen. H3 Dynamics offers fuel cells with different power ratings of 250W, 500W, 1,000W, 1,500W, and 2,000W. The new hydrogen fuel cell system is lighter than other fuel cell systems. The startup leverages a proprietary cellular level water management technology to remove heavy external water management systems which are required in conventional PEM fuel cell systems. The Aerotek hydrogen fuel cell system is also suitable for other air mobility applications including air cargo platforms, including fixed-wing, and VTOL. The duo claims that hydrogen offers a sustainable environmental alternative to promote decarbonization in applications including air mobility applications. The duo claims that the new drone has a payload capacity of 25kg with a five kg cargo carrying capacity. The new drone has various applications including cargo delivery, large-scale inspection, and mapping. The duo claims the new drone can cover six times more surface area than normal battery drones making large-scale inspections faster, cheaper, and easier to complete.
Outlook: The duo aims to enable the air mobility industry to reduce its carbon emission by leveraging hydrogen as a fuel source. Hydrogen can be produced from renewable energy or municipal waste. In November 2021, the drone received official approval from the Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry (MITI). It is the first certified hydrogen fuel cell multi-rotor drone test flight in Japan. In October 2021, H3 Dynamics raised $26M in a Series B funding led by SPARX Mirai Creation Fund with participation from EDBI, ACA Investments, Capital Management Group, the Grosvenor Group, Audacy Ventures, Ascent Hydrogen Fund, and ATEQ. The startup aims to use the funding to expand its geographic presence.