Using hydrogen to power an unmanned aerial vehicle.

Cella Energy Hydrogen Storage Generators

The Challenge

Harnessing hydrogen to power an unmanned aircraft led Cella Energy to work with GX to develop two  different  gas generators to release and deliver hydrogen from their storage pellets when heated.

The Solution

In the first project, Cella Energy, in collaboration with a US aviation specialist, wanted to use hydrogen in conjunction with a fuel cell to power a small unmanned aerial vehicle. As hydrogen is challenging to handle in terms of leakage and operating pressures it needs to be carefully contained. The solution the team devised was to store it inside the incredibly tight confines of the wing of the aircraft itself to be acceptable to the application and end-user. 

The team turned to GX to enlist their help with a design for a hydrogen storage container.  Using 3D CAD to ensure all the necessary components including heaters and electronics would fit inside the wing and FEA analysis to ensure the internal pressures of the gas on its container could be withstood, GX designed and supplied two working demonstrators. One was made from a new type of 3D printed rapid prototype material, whilst the other was made from machined aluminium.

In the second project a larger UAV and much higher gas pressures were involved. As the gas pressures increased and safety considerations grew in importance the team moved over to machined aluminium storage containers with a thin wall section to very tight tolerances. GX manufactured and supplied two NC milled aluminium cylinders one of which was ultimately fitted into the fuselage of the UAV.

The Result

The two working demonstrators were developed to show how Cella Energy could use hydrogen-generated electrical energy to power unmanned aircraft and also extend the range of the craft.

The first version was shown at the Unmanned Systems show in Orlando in May 2014 and helped to raise additional funding for further development of the technology.

The second iteration was built into a Raptor UAS E1 UAV which flew on 19th January 2016 in collaboration with the Scottish Association for Marine Science and Arcola Energy Ltd. The technology has massive potential, with Cella hydrogen-electric systems able to produce three times the energy of a lithium battery of the same weight. For further details of the flight click here to visit the Cella Energy website.