Ballard Power Systems announced that the company has developed a next-generation fuel cell propulsion system to power unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Ballard has also received a follow-on contract from Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary, for extended durability testing of the 1.3-kW system to power test flights of its ScanEagle UAV platform.
Ballard and Insitu have partnered over the past two years to integrate Ballard’s prior generation of fuel cell technology – a complete hydrogen power system for an unmanned fixed-wing and Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) platforms – into the ScanEagle platform. Successful flight testing was announced in mid-2017.
The next generation fuel cell propulsion system delivers a number of important advances: increased power density, resulting from a new membrane electrode assembly (MEA) design; reduced cost, resulting from a combination of new MEA and one-step fuel cell stack sealing process; and extended lifetime. The increase in rated power, without any appreciable increase in size or weight, is a particularly significant development for UAV applications.
“The Ballard and Insitu teams have collaborated closely over the past several years to integrate our proven fuel cell technology into the industry-leading ScanEagle platform,” said Phil Robinson, Vice President of Unmanned Systems at Protonex, a Ballard subsidiary. “This new fuel cell has the potential to deliver a range of benefits compared to the use of an internal combustion engine, or ICE, to power the ScanEagle. These benefits are likely to include an increase in reliability and available electrical power along with a simultaneous reduction in audible noise, thereby enabling lower altitude missions.”