A high-tech Israeli company hopes the UAE could become a major market for its new range of hydrogen drones, which will have potential uses in construction and the oil and gas sector.
HevenDrones is unveiling its first hydrogen-powered model at Idex, the International Defence Exhibition, which takes place at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre from February 20 to 24.
Seen as more environmentally friendly, hydrogen-powered drones are also credited with being able to stay in the air for longer.
Bentzion Levinson, HevenDrones’ founder and chief executive, said drones were often limited to being flying cameras or flying sensors, but using them to deliver packages, food and medical items will become increasingly common.
As capabilities improve, there will be more potential applications involving the carrying of larger payloads for heavy industry, he told The National.
Unlocking potential of new technology
"If we’re imagining the future, we [will] look up at the skies and see hundreds of thousands of drones flying out there and doing many, many tasks as part of our day-to-day life."
He said HevenDrones was in discussion with various potential partners in the Emirates and was even exploring whether it could assemble drones in the country.
"The significant scale that we’re seeing in the UAE is a really, really big opportunity and we are in active discussions with some key players in the UAE ... to both be able to support our drones and build an ecosystem, and this is both in the homeland security world and the commercial world," he said.
The drone market as a whole is set, he said, to experience "exponential growth", with HevenDrones expecting at least 100 per cent year-on-year sales increases as it introduces new models.
HevenDrones, which is currently focused on Israel and the US, was founded in 2019 and is based in Mevo Carmel Science and Industry Park south-east of the coastal city of Haifa in northern Israel.
A number of other companies offer hydrogen-powered drones, a key advantage of which is that they have the potential to remain in the air for longer or to undertake multiple short deliveries without refuelling.
While initial purchase prices for hydrogen-powered drones are currently higher, Mr Levinson said low operation costs made them cheaper in the long run.
"Hydrogen can be refuelled in minutes. It’s like going to a gas station and refuelling. And the price of hydrogen at scale is very cheap," he said.
One way that a hydrogen-powered drone in industry could be refuelled is through a portable electrolyser that uses electricity to generate hydrogen from moisture in the air.
"You could put it in your construction site or offshore rig," Mr Levinson said. "You would connect it and you would create hydrogen from the air."
Drones can be eco-friendly alternative
Using drones rather than vehicles to, for example, make deliveries has been described as more environmentally friendly, with a report by PwC saying that employing more of the craft could save 2.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions in the UK alone.
Hydrogen-powered drones in particular are said to offer environmental benefits because they do not require the mining of lithium for a battery, or subsequent battery disposal. They are additionally emissions free.
HevenDrones’ early drones could carry payloads of around 20lbs to 70lbs and could fly for a maximum of about half an hour.
H2D55, the model being shown for the first time at IDEX, has a payload of 7kg and can stay in the air for 100 minutes.
Later this year the company plans to unveil two hydrogen-powered drone models with greater carrying capabilities but still with the ability to fly for longer periods.
Ultimately drones able to carry larger payloads for hours will be released and the company expects hydrogen-powered craft to account for as much as 95 per cent of sales in the long term.
The regulatory environment currently limits some commercial and other uses of drones, Mr Levinson said. In some instances, such as ship-to-shore transit, where flying takes place over a body of water rather than over inhabited land, there are fewer restrictions.
As well as new uses in the construction, mining and oil-and-gas sectors, he said that drones would find a growing range of applications on solar farms, such as for the cleaning and even installation of panels.
Flying to the rescue
During the Covid-19 pandemic, HevenDrones assisted the Israeli authorities with the delivery of medical supplies.
"We were one of the first companies in Israel to do the Covid deliveries by drone," Mr Levinson said. "We worked with the Israeli government on delivering Covid test kits. That was a very interesting project."
Potential medical uses in future could even include, Mr Levinson said, delivering a defibrillator to the site of an emergency.
Other potential applications include crop spraying, measuring the nutrient levels in soil, and surveying land for reforestation projects.
The defence industry is another sector that is increasingly using drones, with possible uses for the craft including carrying out surveillance and delivering medical supplies, food and ammunition.