Ballard Power Systems’ subsidiary, Protonex, has received purchase orders from the US Navy for a total of 13 fuel cell propulsion systems for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone platforms. Deliveries of the fuel cell propulsion systems are expected to occur in 2018.

Protonex has supplied proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell propulsion systems for the successful Ion Tiger fuel cell powered UAV programme and is now providing a variant of its 600-watt PEM fuel cell propulsion system for the subsequent Hybrid Tiger UAV programme. This builds on a productive relationship with the US Navy that began in 2006.

The Hybrid Tiger UAV was designed by the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to explore new power system technologies for UAV propulsion. High efficiency fuel cells from Protonex, in combination with other technologies, are expected to enable greater endurance than the 26 hours demonstrated by Ion Tiger in 2009. Through this programme, Protonex is providing a key technology to advance the Navy’s unmanned system performance goals.

Protonex fuel cell UAV propulsion systems are used by the US Department of Defence to enhance flight duration and range, while minimising audible noise. The rugged and reliable systems are designed to operate in all types of environments and at high altitudes, enabling deployments in exacting missions worldwide. The Protonex FCair™ line of commercial UAV power systems build on this defence heritage for applications in such areas as agriculture, asset inspection, surveillance, and search & rescue.