Drone flies over forest

South Korean stalwart bets on hydrogen drones to revive company fortunes

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Doosan Group is looking to hydrogen-powered technology to expand its presence in renewable energy as it emerges from restructuring.

The 126-year-old South Korean conglomerate is making a large investment on hydrogen-powered technology as a means to recover its fortune, according to a Bloomberg report. Its initial focus will be on drones, but the company also has high ambitions for other uses for hydrogen technology in the long-term.

“Our long-term vision is to provide fuel cells for various kinds of mobile applications, like robots, starting with hydrogen drones,” said Doosoon Lee, chief executive officer of unit Doosan Mobility Innovation. “We will also play a crucial role in the South Korean government’s goal to build a multi-seat unmanned aerial vehicle.”

Hydrogen is increasingly becoming a popular alternative to standard lithium-ion batteries, as it allows drones to overcome power limitations and fly higher and for longer.

Doosan Mobility unveiled its first DS30 hydrogen drone in 2020 and launched an updated model – the DS30W – in Europe in November 2021. The drones, designed for industrial-surveillance purposes, are waterproof and can travel for about 50 miles and endure strong winds. In contrast to standard battery-powered systems, Doosan Mobility's models also show how much power the drone has remaining through a remote-control system that can be installed on a personal computer or mobile phone app. 

Lee expects that demand for special-purpose hydrogen drones will significantly grow in the next few years, particularly in areas such as surveillance, lifesaving, remote or dangerous maintenance checks and the delivery industry. According to his estimates, the global market for drones used for industrial purposes could grow to 8.3tn SK won (£5.2bn) by 2025.

The company is expecting to obtain around $100m (£77.5m) in revenue from hydrogen fuel cells and drones within the next three to four years.

In March, Doosan Mobility received a 27bn SK won investment (about £16.9m) from IDG Capital, Korea Investment Partners and DS Asset Management “in recognition of its growth potential in the hydrogen mobility business.” The funds will reportedly be used to develop logistics cargo drones with hydrogen fuel-cell technology.

“Doosan Mobility is a key future business for the group’s plan for seeking a new strategy after restructuring,” said Kim Dong-yang, an analyst at NH Investment and Securities Co. in Seoul, stressing his belief that the Doosan group has the most advanced technology for hydrogen power generation in South Korea. 

As part of a restructuring that has taken place over the last two years, Doosan has sold businesses including excavator-maker Doosan Infracore Co. and battery foil unit Doosan Solus, as well as its headquarters in Seoul. It still owns heavy industries and nuclear energy unit Doosan Enerbility Co. and construction-equipment maker Doosan Bobcat Inc.

“Doosan still has cash to invest in other new businesses,” said Kim Jang-Won, an analyst at IBK Securities in Seoul.

Doosan Mobility says it has capacity to produce 2,000 hydrogen-powered drones a year and its revenue is projected to rise 93 per cent to about £7.5m in 2022.

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