Middle-mile European drone delivery specialist Dronamics is joining forces with groundbreaking aviation tech developer Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) in an effort to perfect clean hydrogen fuel cells to power the company’s Black Swan cargo UAVs.
Dronamics, which has been certified by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency to operate across the bloc as a drone airline, is looking to CAeS hydrogen cell development to address what may arguably be the one wrinkle in its middle-mile delivery strategy: the carbon-free sustainability of its automated Black Swan freight craft. Designed to fly continent-spanning routes of up to 1,500 miles carrying as much as 770 lb. at speeds of 125 mph, those planes require long-lasting power that cleaner technologies haven’t been able to provide.
Perhaps until now.
Initially Dronamics pursued a hybrid solution that lowered rather than eliminated carbon emissions. Last month, the company struck a partnership with UK company Zero Petroleum to supply fossil-free fuel for future net-zero aerial cargo transport. Now the Dronamics is turning to CAeS hydrogen-cell technology that may one day rid its middle-mile drone deliveries entirely of CO2 output.
If the duo can perfect that clean hydrogen cell power as a replacement for existing power options, it would bring Dronamics one large step closer to achieving its objective of providing sustainable, unpolluting, fast drone delivery service to middle-mile customers who currently have to wait days for orders to be transported by road.
“When we set out to develop our drone technology, we had a very clear goal in mind – build the most efficient cargo aircraft to date: less time, less cost, less emissions,” said chief technology officer Konstantin Rangelov – one of two brothers who founded Dronamics. “Our partnership with Cranfield Aerospace Solutions will allow us to bring clean, zero-emission aviation technology to more communities and businesses in all corners of the planet, quicker. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we couldn’t be more excited for it.”
Several big players are working hard on developing hydrogen technology, including Doosan Mobility, Honeywell, and Hyundai. Though that research has produced cells capable of powering smaller UAVs for just over two hours – triple to double capacities of craft using lithium-ion batteries. Producing variants big and strong enough to propel large payload delivery UAVs across middle-mile distances has proved elusive, however, and now becomes the challenge CAeS and Dronamics will try to overcome.
“This partnership with Dronamics represents a fantastic opportunity for CAeS,” says company CEO Paul Hutton, who will seek to build on hydrogen fuel work already being done for a small airplane client. “Not only will the hydrogen-fuel-cell technology we are currently developing for the nine-seat Britten-Norman Islander change the face of regional aviation, but it will also make a huge impact on the cargo industry. The combined experience and expertise of CAeS and Dronamics is a very exciting prospect.”