H3 Dynamics’ self-contained hydrogen propulsion pods for drones and airplanes are from France. They have huge range and endurance without large batteries, like Airbus and other commercial airliners.
Batteries weigh alot, heat up, and take a long time to charge, yet they’re simple, straightforward to use, and store enough energy for numerous uses. Hydrogen is a hassle, but in a fuel cell powertrain, it can keep an aircraft flying for ridiculously long periods of time.
H3 Dynamics’ lightweight, aerodynamic hydrogen propulsion nascelle contains the powertrain—hydrogen tank, fuel cell system, electric motor, and propeller. It can be mounted on a fixed-wing fuselage or spread along the wings for propulsion.
It’s now sized for commercial fixed-wing drone inspection, reconnaissance, scientific, and emergency-zone aircraft. It’s been tested on a 25-kg (55-lb) fixed-wing cargo drone with two pods, and H3 Dynamics predicts a 350-km (217-mile) range on gaseous hydrogen or 900 km (560 miles) on cryogenic liquid hydrogen, similar to Airbus’s technology.
VTOL provides unique issues. H3 and Australian eVTOL drone company Carbonix are creating a lift-and-cruise hydrogen cargo and commercial drone. H3 will first add propulsion pods to existing Carbonix aircraft for long-range cruise flight while the battery system handles the more unpredictable power demands of VTOL and hover phases.
As the cooperation evolves, things will become more integrated, but a battery that can make near-instant torque changes to stabilize a multicopter in a hover will remain. During flying, fuel cells could charge smaller battery packs.
Then liquid hydrogen. Since 2019, the business has been working with the Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace (ISAE-SUPAERO) in Toulouse on cryogenic liquid H2 systems to fly a hydrogen aircraft cleanly across the Atlantic Ocean in two years. The shortest Atlantic trip is 2,575 km (1,600 miles) between Senegal and Brazil, so it’s an epic challenge.
Finally, manned flight. By 2023, the business hopes to fly a two-to-four-seat passenger jet with a larger, more powerful propulsion pod. These could be retrofitted to many small planes without removing their fossil fuel engines, giving them double redundant powertrains and more range.