Ballard, Insitu partner on UAS fuel cell propulsion system

By Patrick C. Miller | January 03, 2018

Ballard Power Systems announced the development of the next generation of high-performance fuel cells for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and that it’s working with Insitu on a fuel cell propulsion system for the Boeing subsidiary’s ScanEagle UAS.

With offices in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Southborough, Massachusetts, Ballard develops clean energy products to help solve technical and business challenges in power and energy. The company received a follow-on contract with Insitu for extended durability testing of the next-generation 1.3 kilowatt fuel cell propulsion system for the fixed-wing ScanEagle.

Insitu’s ScanEagle can be equipped with multiple payload capabilities, including high-definition imaging. The company’s UAS platforms have logged more than one million flight hours in military and civilian applications.

Ballard and Insitu have partnered over the past two years on an earlier generation fuel cell system. They will now work on integrating a complete hydrogen power system for small unmanned fixed-wing and vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) drones into the ScanEagle platform. Successful flight testing was announced in mid-2017.

“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,” said Phil Robinson, vice president of unmanned systems at Protonex, a Ballard subsidiary. “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.”

According to Ballard, its next-generation fuel cell propulsion system delivers a number of important advances, including increased power density, reduced cost and extended lifetime. The company said the increase in rated power—without an appreciable increase in size or weight—is a significant development for UAS applications.

“Insitu is pleased to continue our partnership with Ballard as we add capabilities, further increasing reliability and decreasing operating cost of the ScanEagle platform,” said Andrew Duggan, vice president and general manager of Insitu Commercial. “We look forward to further performance tests and customer demonstrations in the coming year.”