Clean Forever-Flying Drones: Utilizing Ocean Water for Hydrogen Fuel Extraction in Climate Monitoring

We are Purdue students working under the mentorship of Professor Qiao in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Recently, the team in charge of the project entered the University Student Research Challenge (USRC) hosted by NASA. The students’ paper design won the top prize and are looking to put their ideas into practice.

As part of the USRC competition, the students have won some support from NASA’s outreach program. However, students are still expected to raise a bit of funds through their own crowdfunding efforts.  To show NASA that the winners of the competition have the skills to promote awareness in the general public about students’ research, the competition requires that students be able to raise $2000 by themselves. This is where the donors come in. We ask that potential donors contribute what they can so that we can meet the requirements set by NASA’s competition. Upon reaching our goal, we will be able to fulfill NASA’s entrepreneurship demonstration and showcase that our project should be invested more into.

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Progress: $10 of $2,000 raised

The project was first established in the Summer of 2023 when Professor Qiao’s lab group was discussing new ideas that they would wish to pursue. As a group, they decided to investigate the possibility of developing a system that generates hydrogen from ocean water to power long term data collection drones. The idea involves establishing an ocean-based fueling station that utilizes electrolysis, a process that produces hydrogen fuel from water. This hydrogen will be used to power four small fuel cell drones designed for remote sensing and climate monitoring over the ocean. With the re-fueling capability, these drones will have significantly extended flight durations (forever) and require minimal maintenance, which ensures 24/7 aerial coverage. These drones would be placed in difficult to access areas of the ocean and open exciting possibilities for gathering real-time climate data, conducting comprehensive surveys of marine life and oceanic glaciers using advanced cameras and sensors.

We intend to use the donations received to start a proof-of-concept setup for the idea. The team plans to use any support that we can raise to finalize the design, build, and assemble a protype of this project.