An Arduino hydrogen blimp… oh the humanity!


This sort of flying contraption seems more suited for indoor use. Well, except for the fire hazard presented by building an Android controlled hydrogen blimp. The problems we often see with quadcopters come into play when a motor wire comes loose and the thing goes flying off in a random direction. Loosing a motor on this airship will be no big deal by comparison.

Because the build relies on the buoyancy of the gas, light-weight components are the name of the game. The frame of the chassis is built from balsa wood. It supports two tiny DC motors which are almost indistinguishable in the image above. An Arduino nano and wireless receiver monitor commands from the transmitter and drive the propellers accordingly.

You may have noticed that we categorized this one as a chemistry hack. That’s because [Btimar] generated the hydrogen himself. He used an Erlenmeyer flask with a spout for the chemical reaction. After placing several heat sinks and other scraps of solid aluminum in the flask he poured on the lye solution. This generates the H2 but you need to keep things cool using ice to keep the reaction from getting out of control. We’re going to stick with helium filled blimps for the time being!

See this beast flying around [Btimar’s] living room in the clip after the break.

47 thoughts on “An Arduino hydrogen blimp… oh the humanity!

    1. Don’t forget to add a cheap little stun gun switched on by an Arduino – controlled relay to act as a trigger for the explo… Err, I mean a mid-air illumination source!

      Is there a cheap Arduino air pressure sensor to “illuminate” it at a certain altitude? :-)

  1. Good work generating and using all that hydrogen without incident :)

    I hope you don’t expect more lift over helium though, hydrogen is a diatomic gas!

    1. hydrogen is diatomic, but helium has an atomic weight of 4 compared to H2 having a weight of 2.
      or do i remember wrong.
      we always used hydrogen instead of helium in our ballons, much cheaper and not as dangerous as propane filled ballons if it ignites (propane makes insanely huge flames)

      1. In the event flight is the goal, why would anyone fill a balloon with a heavier that air gas? Propane is heavier that air, that why no one install propane fired heating appliances in basements or cellars. Some depending on prayer or hope do install propane forced ar heating unit in attic spaces.

        1. That *must* be a typo on his part. A propane leak can obliterate entire homes in winter (I have photos) because the surrounding snow can create walls the propane can’t escape from. He must be thinking of Methane. If I recall from numerous high school pranks, it’s a “lighter than air” gas and is flammable.

          1. Yea probably meant methane, I was unaware that methane cam be used as a lifting gas until I went looking again how hydrogen was produced frame methane extract from natural gas. Around here many rural homes are connected to methane. Get one of of them interest in lighter than air projects & have ready supply of gas.

      2. Yup, you’re absolutely right! I hadn’t had coffee yet and forgot the neutrons in helium. Thanks for catching that!

  2. I immediately wondered why he didn’t use electrolysis for his gas source, and then I saw he wrote, “If you have a beefy DC power supply and want to get your gas by electrolysis, go for it, but I think you’ll find it hard to match the reaction rate and volume of gas produced by the aluminum-lye method.” Car batteries have no problem producing plenty of hydrogen via electrolysis.

      1. He was willing to sacrifice a considerable amount of aluminum for his hack already. Aluminum plates can be had for a few bucks online that would conduct plenty of current for the job. Just an idea…

        1. Carbon Rods would work. Platinum does too. The problem with using Aluminum (or most metals) is that they form positive ions in the solution which then flow towards the cathode, destroying the electrode and contaminating the solution.

          There’s also the issue of the electrolyte. Common table salt is often used, but this can produce harmful Chlorine gas as a byproduct of electrolysis.

          1. The chlorine gas is reabsorbed by the water though and usually isn’t in great enough of a quantity to cause any issues.

    1. Hydrogen doesn’t ignite without oxygen so it’s safe if it’s contained properly. The Hindenburg tragedy probably wasn’t due to the hydrogen but the skin of the craft.

      1. The solution to that is to catch both O2 and H2 from the electrolysis, for maximum mid-air “illumination” :-))

  3. *losing
    Unlikely that the electronics would make a spark, but if cool and dry inside… might be fun to put on wooly socks and see what happens!

  4. *meh* The hydrogen would burn so fast i doubt it would catch the ceiling on fire, not to mention that the hydrogen is inside the envelope and the electronics are outside of the envelope. Seeing as how [bitmar] did not coat the envelope with fucking THERMITE (liek the Hindenberg), i predict there will never be an issue and HAD is just spreading more Hydrogen FUD for cheap headline laughs.

    1. I agree with TheMeh. Remembering the last time I encountered open air hydrogen, igniting it make a very faint bluish flash in daylight and a moderately loud POP! Nothing dramatic or frightening.

  5. I was reading a paper recently where they showed that graphene was a very effective barrier for hydrogen and helium. So effective that it could be described as zero loss. This is markedly different to how he and h2 behave in other materials, which can leak easily. Essentially in future helium and hydrogen balloons could stay up nearly indefinitely. Ironically graphene leaks like a sieve for most other gases especially water vapour.

    1. There was a post on the blimpduino project about the possibility to fill a second envelope with azote as a barrier for the hydrogen core. As a result they kind of says it might help, you would get less lift out of it but you could fill your balloon on the cheap and get a less dangerous flying object.

      What are your thought about it? What gas would you propose for the second envelope?
      Will it work ?

      1. You could always use helium as the second gas. However using gas as a barrier for another gas (especially hydrogen) probably wouldn’t work.

        I think graphene is the way to go, since it’s getting cheap to manufacture, and unlike say carbon nanotubes, it has some immediate uses right away. You can even grow graphene directly on several metals, so if you made a gas tank from one, you might be able add the graphene layer later.

        Tbh the cvd (chemical vapour deposition) process isn’t terribly difficult, once you have a recipe, so maybe some hackers will do it in the next few years.

  6. High school chemistry class has taught me that a hydrogen balloon of that size will make a very loud bang, a burst of heat, and might even produce a strong enough overpressure to break a large window. It is unlikely that it will light anything on fire, though.

    That said, there are a lot of reasons to be careful while handling or producing H2. The lye can give you a nasty chemical burn, the heat of the reaction can break glassware, and having ANYTHING explode when you are a few inches away is unpleasant.

    1. Clearly you need to take high school chemistry again, because hydrogen must be mixed with oxygen to explode. If this pure hydrogen balloon were ignited, it would merely result in a small quiet fireball lasting about a second. It certainly would not break any windows.

      1. This is the memory of demonstrations, not theory. Hydrogen burns _fast_. You’re right that it probably wouldn’t break a window, but I have clear memories of the overpressure opening them.

        H2/02 balloons are terrifying. Those can definitely break windows with overpressure.

        1. Oh wow, you just gave me a very distinctive flashback of releasing the latches on classroom windows during the wintertime. Afterwards the windows were a tiny bit ajar. This with the classroom doors open too.

  7. As a kid I used aluminum & a lye mixture in a pop bottle to fill small balloons. I understand real deal weather balloons are filled with hydrogen, in the past I have seen surplus hydrogen generators for sale. A web search reveal there are 2 kinds of hydrogen generators for dale; chemical reaction and electrolysis. As helium becomes more expensive, no doubt amateur balloon flight plans will consider how to hydrogen.

  8. Nice to see people taking into account helium is a dwindling resource better used for something other than damn balloons.

  9. Well, I am glad to see that people have already started to cover perpetual flight applications, and ideas on how to generator the HHO. In-fact it is both answers of chemical generation & electrolysis generation in redundancy perhaps paired with emergency shoot deployment on illegal accelerometer movement.

    1.The collection of moisture(air vapor) in the various altitudes of the atmosphere can provide ample amount of H20(Water) when you use alternating super-hydrophilic & super-hydrophobic envelopes or containers which then (gravity)feed the electrolysis generating unit powered by an option of either flexible thin-film solar cells on the envelope on the balloon or HFC(Hydrogen Fuel Cells).

    2. Ballast can be achieved by using multiple methods(hopefully redundant) of separate O2(Oxygen) envelopes or release of Hydrogen from the main Envelope, and also H20 collection/release.

    Thank you community for catching on to the drift!!!

    Technological Perpetual Flight

      1. Obviously it would be stupid to power electrolysis from a fuel cell, but the fuel cell could serve to collect energy from hydrogen which might otherwise be vented to maintain buoyancy levels.

    1. If you watch the video all the way through, The earliest balloons shown are hydrogen only. They burn more than they explode, this makes sense as hydrogen must “seek” atmospheric oxygen . The overall energy is significantly less, logical, with air being only around 21% oxygen. Id imagine there is also a fair amount of hydrogen that manages to escape the combustion, being expelled by the early combustion and mixing with the surrounding air. It would be interesting to extend this experiment across a number of different size balloons.

      Towards the end they use a stoichiometric mix of hydrogen and oxygen….this is clearly explosive (okay its really still combustion but at a more rapid rate) The energy released is significantly greater but also shorter lived.

      I find it amusing that EVERYONE cries hindenberg at the mere mention of hydrogen balloooning. The first manned hydrogen balloon flight was December 1, 1783. First death (2 deaths actually) June 15th 1785 in a Roziere Balloon, a hot air/hydrogen dual envelope hybrid….it crashed but didnt explode. The Hindenberg (1937) killed 26 immediately with 10 more succubing to their injuries in the days and weeks that followed. 62 passengers/crewmembers survived 37% fatality. The worst dirigible explosion of record happened 4 years earlier when 73 of 76 members of the USS Akron perished. 73 the worst death toll despite military use of manned hydrogen balloons from Napoleon to World War I. But the hindenberg pretty much ended 154 years of hydrogen balloon advancement.

      The first powered heavier than air flight happened dec 17 1903. The first death September 17, 1908. Japan Airlines Flight 123, the most deadly single plane crash killed 520 with only 4 survivors in 1985. We still use the 747. Without digging too deep in detail.. This list despite its label includes 101 incidents,, The 100 worst aviation disasters, excluding the Towers, claimed 18990 lives….and thats just the worst of the worst, the oldest of those 1962. We still fly planes.

      Im with Walternate….nothing wrong with a little h2

  10. I’ve been playing with the idea of using H2 for a Near-Space balloon. I was going to use a gallium-aluminum reaction. While the gallium is reuseable, it is pricy. The up side is a slightly lower heat production and no corrosive chemicals.

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