Ballard Unmanned Systems, Inc.–a subsidiary of Ballard Power Systems, Inc.–recently announced the launch of the FCair fuel cell product line, a complete long duration fuel cell power solution for commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
FCair includes an industry-leading hydrogen fuel cell power system, hydrogen storage vessels, pressure regulators, refueling solutions and hydrogen gas supply. The product line supports commercial UAV manufacturers and operators in the delivery of fuel cell-powered UAV benefits, including: 3x the flight duration of batteries; 5x the reliability and a fraction of the noise of small internal combustion engines; and significantly reduced operational expenses.
Phil Robinson, vice president & general manager, Ballard Unmanned Systems, said, “We have worked to focus UAV propulsion systems on high value commercial applications. This year’s AUVSI XPONENTIAL Conference [in May] marks a milestone, with our display of the first fully integrated commercial multi-rotor drone or UAV utilizing Ballard’s FCair solution, including the support components and systems that make this integration possible. We see significant long-term market opportunities for zero-emission commercial drones and, eventually, vertical takeoff and landing vehicles and autonomous flying cars.”
The Ballard product line includes FCair™-600 and FCair™-1200 liquid-cooled fuel cell power systems, with built-in hybrid battery control and charging, and delivering 600 and 1,200 watts of power, respectively. These systems are currently in ongoing field trials, having previously been proven in harsh environments and at high altitudes. The FCair family also includes lightweight Carbon Overwrapped Pressure Vessels (COPVs), which are hydrogen fuel tanks based on recent advancements in the automotive and aerospace industries. Lightweight pressure regulators, which reduce the 6,000 psi hydrogen storage pressure to 20 psi pressure needed for a fuel cell, and which include features to assure safe and predictable operation, are also being introduced.
Dr. Jim Sisco, Ballard Unmanned Systems Technical Lead, noted in a company press release, “Over the past several AUVSI XPONENTIAL conferences we have presented on a range of topics, including hydrogen power and hydrogen storage technologies. As the technology and markets matured, we have engaged with hydrogen safety experts from the automotive and aerospace markets to ensure that, as an industry, we are providing systems that are not only high-performance and easy-to-use, but that are also safe from the ground up.”
Ballard Power Systems provides clean energy products that reduce customer costs and risks, and helps customers solve difficult technical challenges or address new business opportunities.
One thing the company hears from virtually every vertical market is that UAV flight time, or TiTA (Time in The Air), as one of the top limiters to productivity and profitability. Hydrogen power has been steadily capturing attention and mind-share as a possible “what’s next” in commercial drones: A technology that increases TiTA by a factor of two to four, according to Ballard.
By partnering with companies across the U.S. and Europe that make carbon fiber tanks, lightweight regulators, refueling systems, and components of each of these, the company has brought together a family of technologies that fit together, work together, and provide a seamless integrated experience for the commercial operator.
Three of these partners are:
- HyPerComp Engineering ( www.hypercompeng.com)– Based in Utah, HyPerComp is widely recognized as one of the most skilled designers and producers of Carbon Overwrap Pressure Vessels (COPVs) in North America. Using space-grade materials to minimize weight and maximize strength, HyPerComp developed the FCair family of COPVs designed specifically for small commercial UAVs.
- NanoSUN LTD (www.nanosun.com.uk) – Based in the UK, NanoSUN recently prototyped a “cascade refueler” for UAV tanks as part of an Innovate UK challenge. The company in partnership with Ballard Unmanned Systems has embarked on an effort to redesign the system to meet North American safety and gas handling standards.
- BFD Systems (www.bfdsystems.com) – Based in Philadelphia, BFD Systems is a leader in custom design heavy-lift drones. Initially used exclusively for cinematography, heavy-lift UAVs have become an increasingly important player in the commercial UAV market. BFD has partnered to develop the H2-6, a hydrogen powered hex-rotor aircraft capable one to two hour flights carrying 1.5 to 3 kg payloads.