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Why this U.S. logistics giant will use drones powered by fuel cells

PINC, which manages ship and railyards, is looking forward to longer flight times and faster refueling turnaround. It's not the only one.

British technology company Intelligent Energy has announced a new deal with U.S.-based logistics and asset management specialist PINC to supply fuel cells for use in the company's growing fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

PINC sells a range of services for managing yards and other industrial and supply chain sites, and it is increasingly making use of UAVs, or drones, to track and monitor assets and inventory at these locations.

The deal represents the first time Intelligent Energy has provided its air-cooled fuel cells for use in drones, having previously focused on supplying the automotive, onsite generation and consumer electronics markets.

The company said fuel cells offered drone operators longer flight times, fast refuel capabilities and flexibility for varying payloads, addressing some of the biggest challenges faced by the nascent sector.

"I am delighted to announce the first sales of our fuel cell systems for UAV application," said Julian Hughes, senior VP at Intelligent Energy. "PINC is leading the way with the use of hydrogen fuel cell UAVs in the supply chain and we are certain they will be impressed with the benefits our fuel cells will offer over conventional batteries."

Drones could help help cut carbon emissions and improve resource efficiency in scenarios where aerial inspections are required.

Martin Bloom, group CEO at Intelligent Energy, said the deal was also part of the company's international expansion plans. "PINC is based in California, a state that is proactively adopting hydrogen," he said. "We see this region as a significant market for Intelligent Energy's range of market-ready fuel cell products."

The deal is the latest example of a cleantech firm tapping into the growing market for drones, which has seen companies identify a raft of new applications for the unmanned technology that can help cut carbon emissions and improve resource efficiency.

Earlier this month, drone operator Above Surveying announced a new partnership with the University of Essex to accelerate the development of "smart drone" technology capable of monitoring and optimizing the performance of solar farms.

The "smart drone" technology will use intelligent embedded systems and advanced image recognition to measure and identify deterioration of solar PV panels across large-scale solar farms, helping operators to maintain their assets and maximize power output.

Similarly, renewable energy consultancy SgurrEnergy announced this month that it has added UAVs to its inspection service, making it easier to assess the performance of hard to reach renewable energy assets such as wind farms.

Engineering giant Siemens also announced recently that it has teamed up with U.S. drone specialist SkySpecs to bolster the development of a new approach for monitoring wind turbines using UAVs.

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