Nieke Roos
24 September 2019

At its testing center in Marknesse, the Royal Netherlands Aerospace Center (NLR) has flown a hydrogen-powered drone in Dutch airspace. It’s the first time this has been done outdoors in the Netherlands. The test provides additional insights into research and development of alternative fuels for sustainable aviation.

This first flight involved a drone – or more formally, a remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) – weighing eight kilograms with six propellers and a high-pressure tank (300 bar) of two liters, filled with hydrogen gas. The tank is connected to a fuel cell in which the hydrogen reacts 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 vapor. Another major benefit of hydrogen is that the drone can fly significantly longer with a full tank than it could with just a battery.

NLR hydrogen drone
Credit: NLR

Martin Nagelsmit, NLR’s Electric Flying program manager, says, “The drone’s power is 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’re demonstrating a concrete step in the agreements that the aviation sector has made for reducing CO2 emissions by 35 percent 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, for instance, is busy developing a hydrogen-powered drone for flights above sea and the close collaboration with Dronehub Groningen Airport Eelde means that their drone will also be approved by NLR shortly.