Li-S Technology, V-TOL Aerospace and Halocell team up to develop high-altitude drones

Li-S Technology, V-TOL Aerospace and Halocell team up to develop high-altitude drones

A 3D rendered image of proposed Pegasus II solar wing in flight. Photo: V-TOL Aerospace 

A partnership has been forged between three Australian companies specialising in energy and aerospace technologies in a major step towards new era of high-tech drone manufacturing in Australia.

Listed battery technology company Li-S Energy Limited (ASX: LIS), drone developer V-TOL Aerospace and advanced solar panel maker Halocell have signed an agreement to pool their collective experiences to develop and test low and high-altitude long endurance (HALE) drones for a range of commercial applications, ranging from the surveillance and agricultural sectors to mining and disaster response.

Li-S Energy brings its lithium sulphur battery technology to the partnership with plans to integrate its systems with Halocell’s bespoke solar cell technology and V-TOL Aerospace’s aerial drone designs to build a drone capable of flying in the stratosphere at an altitude of up to 70,000 feet – or 21 kilometres - for weeks at a time.

The proposed prototype will be based on V-TOL’s Pegasus fixed-wing aircraft designs from which the partners plan to develop a family of drones that can undertake a range of long-endurance tasks. 

High-altitude drones with long endurance capabilities are expected to be used for a range of commercial applications such as surveillance and security in remote and regional areas; environmental monitoring to track conservation efforts and environmental challenges; digital farming to support precision agriculture; and disaster response and relief, including identifying hazards and locating survivors.

The drones could also be used for long-range infrastructure inspections, delivery and logistics in remote or inaccessible areas, and research and exploration by geologists and biologists.

While the partners are assessing the synergies their respective technologies can deliver to the project, they say that modelling has predicted they could deliver a drone with up to six times the flight time of current small-fixed wing drone aircraft.  

Li-S Energy’s lithium sulphur batteries are lightweight and well suited for aircraft applications. The company is currently developing a $10 million production facility at Geelong, which is to be up and running before the end of the year.

Li-S Energy’s CEO Dr Lee Finniear says the partnership with V-TOL and Halocell provides an opportunity to create an all-Australian drone platform of international significance.  

“We are bringing together three innovative Australian companies to build autonomous drones with wide-ranging capabilities,” Finniear says.

“This allows us to not only demonstrate the benefits of Li-S Energy cells in practical high-altitude aircraft, but potentially build a new sovereign capability for the Australian aviation industry.

“Our lithium sulphur battery technology is ideally suited to this type of aerospace innovation, and we see a real opportunity to power the electric aviation revolution.” 

V-TOL Aerospace was founded in 2004 with an ambition to establish a hi-tech strategic robotics industry in Australia.

The company has developed a range of drones including the Goshawk Fixed Wing which has flight endurance of more than two hours and a BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) capability of greater than 10km.

(L-R) V-TOL Aerospace managing director Mark Xavier with Li-S Energy CFO Sarah Price

 

Managing director Mark Xavier reveals that early modelling by V-TOL engineers anticipate that the collaboration could create a family of hi-tech drones, sensors and robots capable of operating from ‘dawn until dusk’ and beyond. 

“All three partners are at the cutting edge of their respective technologies, and the combination of all three offers some exciting opportunities to test the limits of what is currently possible,” Xavier says.

“A big potential winner of this collaboration will be the Australian economy that has the opportunity to benefit from both the sovereign manufacturing capability of the collaborating partners and the geospatial and communication benefits that a networked drone constellation could deliver.

“The V-TOL launch product, Pegasus I, will offer a small fixed-wing long-range platform to conduct hi-resolution surveys of linear infrastructure and broad acre farming. The larger Pegasus II aircraft will be developed to provide a low-cost high altitude multi-purpose capability.” 

Wagga-based Halocell brings its Perovskite solar cell technology to the partnership with the bespoke solar cells said to maximise energy harvesting efficiency.

The next-generation solar solution will be integrated into the drone's structure to harness solar energy during day flight, supplementing the battery and significantly extending the aircraft's range. 

 “We believe adding our cells to drones will add an entirely new dimension to flight time and efficiency,” Halocell’s CEO, Paul Moonie says.

“Aerospace and aviation are key areas of focus for us moving forward, and this opportunity to partner with Li-S Energy and V-TOL is an important step for us.” 

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