Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM in Berlin, Germany have developed an unmanned mini-helicopter powered by fuel cell. Stumbling blocks in the past to developing mini-choppers has been the weight of the fuel cell stacks.
In collaboration with the Technical University of Berlin, the researchers moved around this roadblock by using thin, planar hydrogen fuel cells that weigh only 30 grams, but have an output of 12 watts.
The fuel cell helicopter also uses hydrogen-on-demand technology as the hydrogen-rich chemical compound sodium borohydride is stored aboard the chopper and converted to H2 as needed by just adding water.
The uses of this hydrogen fuel cell mini-helicopter are many such as monitoring traffic, doing search and rescue missions of people trapped in fallen buildings, and monitoring toxic land areas that have been hit with a chemical spill.
I can also think of a few law enforcement uses for this mini-copter as well such as monitoring demonstrations and protests, and perhaps surveillance of suspects. On the military side, the Puma unmanned aerial vehicle that use a fuel cell is already being put through the paces as far as monitoring enemy activity in war zones and keeping troops out of the line of fire. So, I can see applications here for the mini-helicopter as well.
Eventually, this technology will be commercialized into the radio-controlled hobby market. Fuel cells for kids at Christmas will become commonplace. For now, though, it’s onward and upward with this new technology. The sky is truly the limit for the new fuel cell mini-helicopter.