A fuel cell propulsion system designed by a Ballard Power Systems company has successfully powered test flights of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The system, based on proton membrane exchange (PEM) technology, powered the ScanEagle drone, which was manufactured by The Boeing Company subsidiary Insitu.

The project was carried out through Ballard’s subsidiary Protonex.

Protonex’s fuel cell stacks utilise a unique mould-in-place seating approach for repeatability and robustness in assembly and performance. Its system was chosen for its silent operation, 100% throttle flexibility and mid-air start-stop capability.

Paul Osenar, Protonex President, stated, “These test flights have successfully demonstrated the integration and operation of our fuel cell propulsion system as well as the high pressure hydrogen fuel tank. In addition, test flights also confirm that our fuel cell propulsion system offers power during flight that can be used to support greater diversity payload.”

“Fuel cells are proving to be a tremendous fit for UAVs”

Paul Osenar, Protonex President

“When combined with improved reliability and other advantages over internal combustion systems, fuel cells are proving to be a tremendous fit for UAVs.”

The aerial device has exceeded the company’s power requirements so far with additional tests and customer demonstrations planned throughout the remainder of the year.

Insitu’s ScanEagle has logged over 800,000 flight hours in military and civilian applications – making it one of the most successful UAV platforms to date.

UAVs are typically used for military operations where manned flights would be too risky or difficult, sending back real-time imagery of activities on the ground.

Power technology company Intelligent Energy Holdings plc also marked its first fuel cell system sale to the UAV market after signing a deal to supply PINC with air-cooled fuel cell systems last month.

Scan eagle uav

Source: Insitu