Protonex technology will be used to fuel UAVs built by South African manufacturer
Protonex, a subsidiary of hydrogen fuel cell firm Ballard, has received an initial order for its fuel cell propulsion system.
FlyH2 Aerospace, a South African developer of hydrogen fuel cell powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for commercial applications, plans to integrate the Protonex fuel cell system into three aircraft currently in its development pipeline.
Protonex has already supplied fuel cells to the US Army, Navy, Marine and Air Forces, and to research groups such as the Ocean Observatories Initiative.
Commercial details of the order were not disclosed, however FlyH2 said the cells would be used with the UA Plant prototype drone, and its UA Alpha flagship aircraft. UA Plant is expected to be a 30 kilogram (66 lb.) fuel cell-powered agricultural utility aircraft with 9-hour flight endurance.
UA Alpha will be a long-range, long-endurance survey and reconnaissance aircraft designed to carry advanced sensors. With a wingspan of 8.2 metres, a maximum cruising altitude of 4,250m (14,000 feet) and flight distance of more than 600km (370 miles), it would seem to have substantial commercial and military uses.
Onboard sensors can survey environmental variables used in the management of fires, pollution, erosion, alien vegetation and plant diseases.
According to the company, the fuel cell can offer endurances comparable to an internal combustion engine, but with several added benefits, including silent operation, increased reliability, lower vibration and less maintenance. The total cost of ownership is also expected to be lower and the aircraft will only require one fuel stop per day for all-day operations.
In a statement, Protonex president Dr. Paul Osenar said: “FlyH2 has tremendous expertise in the design and development of drone systems, and recognizes the benefits offered by fuel cell propulsion. When combined with improved reliability and other advantages over internal combustion systems, fuel cells are proving to be a high value fit for UAVs. These will be the first civilian drones that we have powered, in addition to our work on military UAVs with several global aerospace customers.”