L2 Aerospace and Cella Energy have teamed up to develop hydrogen storage technology for small, fuel-cell-powered unmanned aircraft systems and potentially other, larger manned and unmanned vehicles. The companies are displaying a mockup of a concept design here at the Farnborough International Airshow (Hall 3 Stand B25).
In March, Cape Canaveral, Florida-based L2 Aerospace received an Aerovironment RQ-11 Raven UAV on loan from the U.S. government to use as a demonstrator for the hydrogen storage project. The hand-launched Raven is powered by a lithium-ion battery and has an endurance of 60 to 90 minutes. L2’s initial goal is to provide three times the duration of lithium ion batteries using a hydrogen fuel cell that converts chemical energy into electricity, and Cella’s hydrogen storage technology.
Nick Gritti, L2 Aerospace president of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and flight systems, said the company would modify an existing fuel cell for the Raven demonstration. Cella Energy plans to have hydrogen storage material operating in the UAV by early 2013, followed by flight-testing later in the year, said Kevin Brundish, chief operating officer.
Cella Energy is a spin-off company of the UK government’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratories (RAL), formed last year to commercialize complex hydride materials developed by the RAL labs between 2007 and 2011. The company has a U.S. location at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The lead investor in Cella Energy is Space Florida, an independent special district in Florida created to foster the growth of the state’s space industry.
Cella’s technology provides a way to “nanostructure and encapsulate” chemical compounds containing hydrogen. The company’s hydrogen storage materials can be stored at ambient temperatures and pressures and packaged for space-constrained applications. Storing hydrogen now requires either high-pressure cylinders or super-cooled liquids.
L2 Aerospace was established in 2010 by U.S. Air Force General (Ret.) Lance Lord. The company is co-developer of the Instant Eyes hand-held, rocket-launched UAV. The vehicle is propelled to approximately 2,500 feet above ground level and provides high-resolution imagery, GPS and metadata within 20 seconds of launch, according to L2.