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How is Hydrogen Used with 5G?


5G, as the fifth generation of mobile networks, offers faster connection speeds than previous generations as well as lower response times and greater capacity. However, this ‘network of networks’ still faces some challenges with connectivity, which could be solved with the help of hydrogen fuel.

Although 5G has the capacity to carry more information at higher rates using previously untapped high frequency radio bands called ‘millimetre waves,’ there can be difficulties when sending over large distances or when operating in remote areas.

However, this could be solved with the use of hydrogen-powered aircraft that would act as a high altitude platform (HAP), in effect a telecoms mast in the sky.


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Improving Coverage

Hydrogen-powered HAPs are being investigated by companies including Cambridge-based Stratospheric Platforms, who have been working with Deutsche Telekom and TWI to deliver uninterrupted 5G connectivity to smartphones, tablets and properties via broadband connectivity. The HAPs system can provide connectivity across areas as wide as 140km and are particularly suited to rural locations. This solution also negates the need for fibre optic cables spanning the seabed to connect island communities.

This improved coverage should benefit those working in rural locations, such as farmers, allowing them to tap into 5G Internet of Things (IoT) devices and access big data. Fishermen will also be among those to benefit from this improved aerial connectivity as the HAPs will allow coverage to extend out to sea too.

With higher data rates than those provided by satellites and without the need for a satellite ground station, plans are underway to provide ubiquitous telecommunications coverage across the UK and into Northern Europe.

In addition to these benefits, using hydrogen-powered HAPs is estimated to cost just one-third of that for terrestrial masts.

Why Use Hydrogen Powered Flight?

Hydrogen power systems are being used for the HAPs system under development. This has been chosen as it releases zero emissions and, when coupled with offshore turbines to generate hydrogen from seawater, can deliver a service that has an availability of over 99.9%.

Hydrogen fuel cells are a clean, environmentally-friendly form of energy that combine liquid hydrogen and oxygen into electrical energy, with the only by product being water vapour.


TWI provides our Industrial Members with support for a range of hydrogen-based applications including monitoring systems for safe hydrogen use and legacy pipeline use for hydrogen transportation. You can also find out more about our work with hydrogen fuel for 5G applications here.

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Hydrogen Storage for 5G Applications

In order to fuel the cell power systems, liquid hydrogen will need to be stored on-board the HAP. Fuel tanks for this purpose need to not only contain the liquid hydrogen but also need to be able to withstand the thermal cycling that occurs as the tanks are refilled.

Composite materials seem to provide the answer to this challenge, preventing the hydrogen from escaping from the tank where it could mix with oxygen and become potentially explosive.

The storage temperature for the liquid hydrogen is 252°C, but the tanks need to be able to thermally cycle from this low temperature up to around room temperature when they are empty. This temperature range could damage materials used for the fuel tanks, especially where a layered system is used with different components that may have different thermal expansion coefficients.

TWI has worked on investigating leaks and thermal stability of the storage vessels used by Stratospheric Platforms, who are one of the leaders of this new 5G connectivity solution.


Hydrogen fuel looks set to provide a solution for the clean energy required to enhance and expand the reach of 5G connectivity, especially across rural and hard-to-reach areas.

Not only does this system offer improved data rates than those provided by satellites but they also negate the need for unsightly masts across the landscape and costs a fraction of that for terrestrial masts.

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