A consortium of Singaporean institutions and private sector companies including HES Energy Systems, ST Aerospace, DSO National Laboratories, and the Future Systems and Technology Directorate of Singapore’s Ministry of Defense, have worked jointly to achieve a record 6-hour endurance, 300km flight on the Skyblade 360 UAV built in Singapore by ST Aerospace.
Besides achieving a significant technical and performance milestone for hydrogen-on-demand enabled fuel cells, it is also the first time that a fuel cell has moved beyond the prototype stage and entered the standard products list of a UAV manufacturer.
The Skyblade 360 fuel cell system developed by HES and DSO is extremely lightweight in comparison to lithium batteries that typically power this aircraft, and it is also extremely compact: its 1L fuel cartridge holds 1000 Wh of usable energy. Unlike a typical hydrogen fuel cell, the system doesn’t store its fuel as pressurized hydrogen gas, but stores it as a solid chemical material, making it easy for end-users to handle in the field.
HES has been able to show that its system can store 7% of its weight as hydrogen with a fuel utilization rate of close to 90%. Several material options exist for hydrogen on demand, however most cannot meet performance targets due to the nature of their reactions and how much energy or reactants are needed to extract hydrogen, which then delivers net usable energy through a fuel cell.
It took HES several years to achieve this performance. The company began with various approaches and technologies including the use of costly sodium borohydride. the system designs based on sodium borohydride were complex, fragile, and came with many challenges for end-users. In 2013 HES pushed forward with a new material and a highly simplified system. The patented hydrogen on demand technology now targets operational costs of just $10 per flight hour, making it a viable option for UAV manufacturers.
HES Energy Systems is part of H3 Dynamics Group, a complementary eco-system of Singapore-based hardware and software companies. HES now has two sister companies including HUS Unmanned Systems, an integrated robotics entity that applies HES technology, as well as HAS Awareness Systems—which is dedicated to advanced field communications, precision tracking and real-time analytics software. The group has recently completed a major financing and is currently expanding into the US, Europe, in addition to its existing base in South Africa.