The use of drone technology has been steadily expanding across commercial, scientific and recreational fields in recent years, with the use of UAV ranging from surveillance and search & rescue operations through to aerial photography, surveying and digital communications.
It is not difficult to understand why drones have so quickly swarmed into the mainstream – they’re lightweight, low-cost, require little preparation or infrastructure, and – crucially, from an environmental perspective – no fuel. There is the enormous potential of drone usage from a sustainability perspective, particularly in the areas of environmental monitoring, agriculture, inspection, and sustainable logistics.
Most drones use lithium-polymer (Li-Po) or lithiumion (Li-ion) batteries. One study, funded by the US Department of Energy and the RAND Corporation, analysed the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per one-pound package delivered by a battery-powered drone as compared with current systems of delivery. The GHG estimates included battery production, transportation electricity, upstream transportation fuels, transportation fuels combustion, warehouse electricity, and warehouse natural gas. The study showed that the total energy used by a small drone is far lower than with any other ground-based transportation.
Renewable energy maintenance
Gone are the days when inspecting wind turbines was undergone by hooking people up to wires and hanging them off of wind turbines. Renewable energy companies can now use small drones to send back real-time videos of power cables; 3D images of turbine blades, and even HD live video of hydro-electric dam walls, in order to inspect for damage at minimal environmental and monetary cost.
Drones are a great tool for monitoring a species’ population and determining its range, and can stop poachers before they strike by pinpointing their locations.
Agricultural sustainability solutions
Drones are gradually replacing more gas-guzzling machines on farms and agricultural land. UAVs can become precision agricultural instruments, spraying plants in such a way that it reduces fertiliser use by 20% – conserving an important hydrocarbon-infused resource, and protecting the environment from pollution in the process.