Ballard to demonstrate PEM propulsion system on UAV

Protonex subsidiary provides prototype fuel-cell power modules for Insitu’s ScanEagle.

April 26, 2016   by PLANT STAFF

Insitu's ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle. Photo: Insitu

Insitu’s ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle.
Photo: Insitu

VANCOUVER — Ballard Power Systems’ Protonex subsidiary has delivered prototype proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell propulsion modules to a Boeing subsidiary for use in an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The ScanEagle UAV made by Insitu, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Co., based in Bingen, Wash., has logged more than 800,000 flight hours in military and civilian applications.

“Fuel cell-powered systems offer compelling value for unmanned aerial vehicles due to improved reliability over small internal combustion engines, as well as very low heat and noise signatures. We believe that fuel cell systems have an extraordinary opportunity to play a key role in the propulsion of many unmanned systems,” said Paul Osenar, president of fuel-cell power producer Protonex in Southborough, Mass.

The ScanEagle is 1.55 metres in length, has a wingspan of 3.11 metres and maximum takeoff weight of 22 kilograms and flies at a maximum speed of 41.2 metres per second (80 knots). It can reach a ceiling of 5,944 metres and has an endurance capability of more than 24-hours.


The Protonex fuel cell propulsion modules are expected to improve mean time between failures (MTBF) by up to five times; provide silent operation and 100% throttle flexibility, including mid-air start-stop capability; and use existing JP8 fuel in ground refueling systems.

Flight demonstrations planned for the second half of 2016.

Ballard Power Systems is a developer of clean power technologies based in Vancouver.

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