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Hydrogen-driven drones Interview with Miriam Flügger, Public Relations Department at ZAL, Center for Applied Aviation Research in Hamburg.

Hydrogen-driven drones

Drones are used for varied areas, logistics and surveillance. The used to be driven with batteries. Now a new generation of drones is being developed - driven by hydrogen.

REH: What can external companies use?

Miriam Flügger: "Use of the infrastructure depends on the degree to which companies are embedded within ZAL. Currently we have around 30 enterprises that have hired specific areas in ZAL to make long-term progress driving forward their goals. The areas are equipped and used individually. As a rule, external companies only have access to areas within the scope of projects in which they are research partners.

But the extension to the building, which is currently near completion, will offer areas suitable for external projects. This service is aimed at meeting the demand for flexible rental spaces that can be used for shorter lets. This is particularly interesting for collaborative research projects, in which internal and external partners work on various milestones either concurrently or in sequence. The Flex Space includes production halls, labs and offices with and without technical equipment."

REH: How important is hydrogen research at ZAL?

Miriam Flügger: "Hydrogen research is one of our most important fields of research. A lot of people don’t know this, but it’s been an important component of our strategy since 2009, the year ZAL was founded. Overall, ZAL is notable for the diversity of the themes it covers. Besides hydrogen, these include robotics and automation, AI and simulation, 3D printing and acoustics. Technologies that reflect current themes and tech trends in aviation. Interestingly, it’s often the case that innovations emerge from the combining of different research areas. One current research project, for example, concerns the automation of fuel cell production with the use of a smart sensor system, an AI intended to optimise manufacturing.

The project is an excellent example of how important “out of the box” thinking is. An approach that is also reflected in our deliberations and discussions with various players in the maritime industry: engaging in cross-sector collaborative hydrogen research to create synergies. For example, CML, the Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services, will be moving into spaces at ZAL as part of the ITZ."

REH: What is your vision for your site and for your research projects?

Miriam Flügger: "Over the next few years, decarbonisation of aviation takes priority. But it’s important to understand here that there’s no one solution we have to develop.  Even though we talk a lot about hydrogen as a source of hope in aviation, it’s just one aspect we’re looking at. We have to consider the whole life-cycle of an aircraft. This includes production processes and use of materials as well as operation, maintenance and recycling. Hamburg has the decisive advantage that we have players from all sectors represented here. This means the big goal of sustainable aviation is driven forward from many angles here. ZAL’s role is to provide a neutral research platform that offers maximum support to the stakeholders. With that in mind, the plan is to expand ZAL in two steps.  Through the addition of a new wing we will expand our research area from 26,000 to 34,000 square metres. There are also plans for a further new building on the opposite side of the road. This means a lot of new space for researchers, test systems and networking events."

REH: For you, what’s the special thing about collaboration in ZAL?

Miriam Flügger: "This places draws life from active dialogue. The staff of the companies have a lot of opportunities to meet up and talk, whether that’s in the café, the in-house table football league, summer after-work socials or specialist events. Networking is a priority for us. It’s a precondition for good collaboration – which benefits research enormously.

REH: What does the development leap from ZALbatros to LiquiDrone look like?

Miriam Flügger: "The size is very similar, but the conversion from gaseous to liquid hydrogen means there will be significant improvements in flight performance."

REH: Which is more challenging: technology or authorisation?

Miriam Flügger: "That depends where the drones are used. For offshore wind farms, where drones are used for maintenance, the requirements are much lower than above a city with controlled airspace."

Thank you very much!

About Oliver Schenk

Profilbild zu: Oliver Schenk

I’m responsible for hydrogen marketing and therefore ensure that local projects and events are recognised in the Hamburg metropolitan area and beyond. To help this promising energy source achieve a breakthrough, I support the hydrogen economy with editorial articles, network events, video productions and much more.