Hydrogen-Powered Drones: Why Fuel Cell Technology Solves Flight Range Challenges in Commercial Applications

Use of unmanned technologies in commercial applications continues to experience a growth spurt. In fact, the commercial drone market is forecasted to reach $15 billion by 2022. Drones and other UAVs offer unique benefits in critical missions, such as search and rescue and medical deliveries, because of their reach beyond human limitations.

While the market is expected to hit exponential growth within the next year, UAV technology is still challenged by limited flight durations and load capacity. Eliminating these barriers would considerably increase adoption and usage of drone technology in critical applications, providing:

  • Extended flight range
  • Longer flight times
  • Increased productivity

Why Hydrogen Fuel Cells?

As with the automotive and mobility sectors, and using hydrogen fueling technology as a power source isn’t a new concept in the UAV market. It’s estimated that, by 2022, approximately 30% of all drones will be powered by fuel cells. 

While traditional battery power sources have proven suitable for short-range UAV operations, hydrogen fuel cell-powered UAVs overcome the constraints facing batteries:

  • Range – Hydrogen fuel cells give commercial drones 2-4x the range of batteries. Increased flight endurance boosts productivity, allowing far more to be achieved in a single flight.
  • Efficiency – The high-energy density of a hydrogen fuel cell makes it a more efficient, lightweight power source for drones. The fast-refuelling capabilities of hydrogen cylinders minimizes downtime in operations as well.
  • Versatility – Hydrogen cylinders can be sized to fit specific flight times and UAV capacities. Additionally, the fuel cells and cylinders have multiple mounting possibilities which offers greater flexibility.

Top Applications Impacted by Longer Drone Flights

Agriculture and Forestry

Gathering aerial data is an important task in large commercial farming operations as well as geographic mapping or forestry operations. The longer range of a hydrogen fuel-powered drone is crucial in surveying larger areas of land in a shorter amount of time, increasing the amount of data collected in a single flight.

Medical Deliveries

Conducting medical deliveries with drones capable of extended flight times enables crucial medical supplies to be deployed to remote or secluded locations that may be difficult to reach through traditional methods.

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced an even greater need for drone deliveries in the form of contactless supply drops. Distribution of PPE and other critical medical supplies throughout the pandemic was done by UAVs to reach those in need faster and minimize person-to-person contact during the distribution process. Increasing drone flight range has made a substantial impact in these recent situations.

Power Line and Offshore Inspections

Aerial inspections are conducted in several industries, including offshore energy, power line transmissions, and highway infrastructure. The longer a drone can stay in the air and the further it can travel during one flight, the more quickly an inspection can be conducted.

Military Missions and Operations

Many military and homeland security operations require surveillance and inspection. Teams can cover more area and complete more missions with longer drone flights. Fuel cell units are also vibration-free, eliminating interference with cameras or other loads.


To learn more about the continued influence of hydrogen fuel cells on the expansion of the drone market, download our short market review:

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Looking to use hydrogen refuelling for your UAV fleet? Learn about Haskel’s portable recharging system.