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Record-Setting Hydrogen-Powered Drone Designed by College Students

By VIVIAN YANKENNY DONG|Mar 27,2022

Chongqing- "The color of the drone is similar to that of the sky. We imagine it is flying in the sky fearlessly, so we named it Qingou, meaning blue seagull in Chinese when we designed it," said Shen Yiling, the aircraft designer of Qingou 30, a hydrogen-powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

As a student studying hydrogen power systems at Harbin Institute of Technology, Shen leads a team of seven people designed Qingou 30, a hydrogen-powered, fixed-wing, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) drone with the longest endurance of its kind in China. It will likely be put into service in two to three years.

Shen Yiling leads a team of seven people who designed Qingou 30 together. (iChongqing/ Vivian Yan)

Qingou 30 serves as the first Chinese drone to adopt a VTOL fixed-wing flight mode, which allows it to rise to a specified height using its rotors and then switch to fixed-wing flight mode, lending it the advantages of both configurations.

"This type of UAV is suitable for a geographical environment in Chongqing," said Shen. "As Qingou 30 is equipped with four vertical propulsion motors and one horizontal propulsion motor, VTOL reduces the requirements of the UAV for the operation site." 

This January, the hydrogen fuel UAV Qingou 30, which has the longest endurance among UAVs in China, completed its maiden flight at Liangjiang Collaborative Innovation Zone. (iChongqing/ Vivian Yan)

Apply to more scenarios

Because of the adoption of the pioneering impact-ventilated fuel cell power system in China, the efficiency of Qingou 30 has been greatly improved.

"Chongqing has a strong strength in industrial and technological areas," said Shen. "There is an aviation innovation industrial park in Liangjiang New Area where we are based, plus we have some experimental facilities and some related supporting enterprises and processing infrastructure to help with our projects."

With wind resistance reaching level six, flying the drone at wind speeds up to 13.8 m/s remains safe. Qingou 30 can be applied to a variety of scenarios, including long-time surveillance, line inspection, aerial survey, logistics, and fire alarm. 

The Qingou 30 has a maximum takeoff weight of 30 kilograms, a wingspan of 4 meters, the fastest flight cruising speed of 25 m/s, a range of up to 800 km, and a flight time of 9 hours.

With wind resistance reaching level six, the hydrogen fuel UAV Qingou 30 can be applied to a variety of scenarios. (Photo/ Liangjiang New Area)

Over three times of endurance

The hydrogen-powered UAV Qingou 30 was independently developed by the Hydrogen Power and Low-Carbon Energy Research Center of the Chongqing Research Institute of Harbin Institute of Technology.

According to Qin Jiang, head of the center, hydrogen fuel cells, as a major form of hydrogen energy application, are much higher than traditional lithium batteries in terms of energy density and can increase the endurance of drones to more than three times that of lithium battery drones of the same power level.

At present, the center has also simultaneously carried out test projects such as UAV ground joint debugging, air-ground link construction, and remote command and control to further expand the application scenarios of UAV operations.

"The longer its battery lasts, the greater the value it achieves," said Shen. "Next, we will expand the hydrogen power system in more areas. For example, we can apply the system to these devices such as aircraft, uncrewed ships, and submarines, expanding the scope of its use."

Data from the Shenzhen UAV Association shows that the UAV industry was worth 67 billion yuan ($10.5 billion) in 2020, a rise of 33 percent year on year.

A picture of Mingyue lake at Chongqing Liangjiang Collaborative Innovation Zone. (iChongqing/ Vivian Yan)

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