It’s Time to Fly, not to Drive: Hydrogen-powered Flying Cars by a Korean Startup.


images courtesy of alaka’i technologies


By Hyunjin Choi


Lengthening flight time is one of the main issues for the drone market. The power source for UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is mostly lithium batteries, which are able to provide power just for about 20 minutes of air time. So as to extend the running time, the size of the battery needs to be bigger, but bigger mass hinders the drones’ performance.


In this regard, liquefaction hydrogen cells have emerged as an alternative because they deliver a greater performance in the compressed form than fossil fuels or gaseous hydrogen fuels. Other than the performance, liquid hydrogen cells are attractive power sources in the sense of safety and environment. It is safer than the conventional fuel as it dissipates quickly in the air, making it hard to catch fire even in the case a tank is accidentally punctured. Besides, mostly composed of hydrogen and oxygen, it is extremely eco-friendly, producing zero-emission.


However, there still remain a few problems to be addressed: how to produce, transport, and store it.



Here, a Korean hydrogen fuel cell startup, Hylium Industries, Inc.(Born2Global Centre Member '18~'19), might suggest an answer for them with a new technology of liquefying hydrogen. Hylium developed the highly difficult cryogenic liquefaction technology in 2014, in turn, succeeding in developing liquid hydrogen tanks which can be utilized for UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). It is very challenging to convert gas-form hydrogen into liquid form since it needs to be cooled at ultra-low temperature, below minus 253 Celsius. In addition, making liquid hydrogen usable fuel is the key to the UAV industry as it is cumbersome to compress and store colorless and odorless hydrogen.Hylium managed to deal with the aforementioned issues in the automotive perspective with cryogenic devices.


The liquid hydrogen cells Hylium Industries developed can be used not only for drones but for small air mobility such as air taxis. Recognizing Hylium’s cryogenic liquefaction technology, Alaka’i, a Massachusetts-based aviation startup, debuted “Skai,” a hydrogen powered flying car in a mockup in LA at BMW Designworks in May. The hydrogen cells by Hylium boost run times of Skai from 20 minutes of conventional batteries up to four hours (400 miles) of flight with even five passenger capacity, depending on the size of the UAV’s fuel tank. With a charge for 10 minutes, it can commute nearby cities, not just within a city. With longer distances by stronger batteries, the multi copters are expected to act as ambulances  as well as mere commuting vehicles. 


With Skai launching, Hylium has stood out as one of the world’s best hydrogen tech-based companies since the flying car company led by aerospace experts from NASA, Raytheon, Airbus, Boeing, and the Department of Defense chose the technology of a Korean hydrogen company to power its own product, beating out all other competitive fuel cell providers worldwide.



Hylium already attracted grand attention after demonstrating mobile Hydrogen Refueling Station, a five-ton truck carrying fueling equipment in 2018. Hylium developed it with support of a world-renowned automotive company, Hyundai and Gwangju Creative Economy Innovation Center. Due to the high initial cost for building a hydrogen refueling system as well as the safety issue for gaseous hydrogen, it was hard to construct a refueling hydrogen station with the expected cost of 3 billion dollars.


However, Hylium addresses the issues of cost, safety, and lack of numbers for hydrogen stations by developing a mobile Hydrogen Refueling Station. With the huge liquefaction hydrogen tank mounted on the truck, it can easily locate and move to hydrogen powered car owners in need of charging fuels. The mobile Hydrogen Refueling Station can store up to 7,500 liters of low-pressure liquid hydrogen and fill up to 100 hydrogen-powered cars per day.



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