Royal NLR was the first to fly a drone powered by hydrogen (gaseous) in Dutch airspace in 2019 (HYDRA I). This is the first time it has been done outdoors in the Netherlands (at the NLR Drone Centre) in Marknesse. Drones offer an ideal platform for testing hydrogen technologies safely on a smaller scale and at relatively low cost. This provides additional insights into research and development of alternative fuels for sustainable aviation.
This drone’s power was 2 kW. The next planned step for hydrogen-powered flying is quite a bit bigger: 15 kW. Ultimately, NLR is aiming for emission-free aviation by no later than 2070. Hydrogen power can play a major role in this. So we’re starting by making that possible for drones. In addition, we are demonstrating a concrete step in the agreements that the aviation sector has made for reducing CO2 emissions by 35% by 2030, as well as in the agreements in the draft accord for sustainable aviation. After carrying out various tests, NLR will share its findings with other parties so that they too can carry out flights in the short term. The Dutch navy is for instance busy developing a hydrogen-powered drone for flights above sea, and the close co-operation with DroneHub Groningen Airport Eelde means that their drone will also be approved by NLR shortly.
Hydrogen-powered flight with drones
This first flight involved a drone weighing eight kilograms with six propellers and a high-pressure tank (300 bar) of two litres, filled with hydrogen gas. The tank is connected to a fuel cell in which an electrochemical process takes place, reacting the hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electrical energy. This ensures that the drone’s flight is – locally at least – CO2-neutral. The only residual product is water vapour. Another major benefit of hydrogen is that the drone can fly significantly longer with a full tank than it could with just a battery.
- Hydrogen offers an extended flight duration and distances beyond what’s possible with batteries.
- Demonstrator project for commercial applications such a transporting medicines or cargo, or for first responders or surveying, etc.
- NLR has obtained first-hand experience in designing, selecting, testing and improving hydrogen components (both gaseous and liquid)
- The HYDRA projects support the standardisation and certification of hydrogen systems for commercial applications
- Preparing for upscaling for manned aircraft
- First flight of the liquid hydrogen drone (HYDRA II): expected in 2022
For more R&D information on these first flights please download the technical papers (see on the right or bottom of this webpage).