Operational Case Study: Fuel Cell Powered Drone
Wednesday, October 07, 2020: 9:45 AM - 10:30 AM
Fuel cell-powered multi-rotors provide 3x flight time (90 minutes or more) over comparable platforms powered by lithium batteries and are seeing widespread interest within the commercial drone industry. In support of the growing curiosity, the fuel cell community has focused on educating potential users on fuel cell performance capability, operational benefits, required ground support equipment, and safety considerations. Additionally, a number of fuel cell manufacturers have demonstrated fuel cell power system endurance capability in representative multi-rotor aircraft operated in well-controlled environments. A challenge that the fuel cell community has faced up to this point has been that of providing practical operational and financial data showing how the increased flight time provided by fuel cell-powered drones may impact a user’s bottom line. How does a fuel cell drone improve operational efficiency? How much does it reduce operational cost/labor? How does it improve the coverage area/range? This paper and presentation offer a case study on the use of a fuel cell-powered drone for an inspection application to answer these questions. The platform used in the study is a hex rotor, powered by a 1.2 kW liquid-cooled, hydrogen fuel cell, with a maximum gross takeoff weight of 15 kg and a maximum payload capacity of 1.5 kg. The case study describes the operation of the system in detail to provide potential users with a thorough understanding of standard procedures as well as the needed support equipment, included ground-based hydrogen flight tank fueling. The operation of the system in the context of a well-known inspection mission is also described and used to demonstrate the capability improvement that the system may provide. A cost-benefit analysis, relative to a battery-powered system performing the same mission, is presented to quantify the value proposition of a fuel cell-powered drone. The results of the study show that a 40% reduction in labor cost is possible with a switch from batteries to fuel cells.
Analyst,Engineering/Technical,Research & Development,Student