Korea’s oldest conglomerate turns to hydrogen drones to revive

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(Bloomberg) — Doosan Group, a 126-year-old South Korean conglomerate emerging from restructuring, is turning to hydrogen technology to revive its fortunes and expand its presence in renewable energy.

“Our long-term vision is to provide fuel cells for various types of mobile applications, such as robots, starting with hydrogen-powered drones,” said Doosoon Lee, General Manager of Doosan Mobility Innovation Unit. “We will also play a crucial role in the South Korean government’s goal to build a multi-seat unmanned aerial vehicle.”

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Doosan Mobility unveiled its first DS30 hydrogen drone in 2020 and launched an updated model – the DS30W – in Europe in November. The drones, which can fly for about two hours, are intended for industrial surveillance purposes, such as monitoring installations around factories or at sea.

The company is targeting about $100 million in revenue from hydrogen fuel cells and drones over the next three to four years, according to Lee. The global market for drones used for industrial purposes could reach 8.3 trillion won ($6.7 billion) by 2025 as businesses use them more widely, he said.

Doosan Mobility said in March it received 27 billion won of investment from IDG Capital, Korea Investment Partners and DS Asset Management “in recognition of its growth potential in the hydrogen mobility industry.” The funds will primarily be used to develop logistics cargo drones with hydrogen fuel cell technology, he said.

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More: Drone taxis and bags of rice take flight in downtown Seoul

Hydrogen can exceed the power limits of standard lithium-ion batteries, allowing drones to fly higher and longer, Lee said. He expects growing demand for specialty hydrogen drones in areas such as surveillance and rescue, as well as the delivery industry.

Unlike battery-powered drones, Doosan Mobility’s hydrogen models indicate the amount of power remaining through a remote control system that can be installed on a personal computer or mobile phone application. The drones are waterproof, can travel 80 kilometers (50 miles) and withstand high winds, according to the company’s website.

“Doosan Mobility is a key future business for the group’s plan to seek a new strategy after restructuring,” said Kim Dong-yang, an analyst at NH Investment & Securities Co. in Seoul. The Doosan Group has the most advanced technology for hydrogen power generation in South Korea, he said.

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As part of a 2020 restructuring to last February, Doosan sold businesses such as excavator maker Doosan Infracore Co. and battery sheet unit Doosan Solus, along with its headquarters in Seoul. It still owns heavy industries and nuclear power unit Doosan Enerbility Co. and construction equipment maker Doosan Bobcat Inc.

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

Doosan Mobility, which says it has the capacity to produce 2,000 hydrogen-powered drones a year, opened a branch in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen in 2019 to boost sales and build local partnerships. Its total sales in the fourth quarter of 2021 jumped 108% from a year earlier, according to holding company Doosan Co. Revenue is expected to rise 93% to around 12 billion won this year.

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