At the AUVSI Xponential Annual Conference and Expo 2019 in Chicago, Ballard Unmanned Systems, Inc. a subsidiary of Ballard Power Systems, announced the launch of the FCair™ fuel cell product line. FCair is a complete, long-duration fuel cell power solution for commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). (See the BFD H2-6 multi-rotor UAV, powered by Ballard’s FCair-1200 fuel cell system, undergoing field trials. — image courtesy of CNW Group/Ballard Power Systems Inc.)
FCair includes a hydrogen fuel cell power system, hydrogen storage vessels, pressure regulators, refueling solutions and hydrogen gas supply. The product line supports commercial UAV makers and operators in the delivery of fuel cell-powered UAV benefits.
According to Ballard, Fcair supports 3x the flight duration of batteries, 5x the reliability, and a fraction of the noise of small internal combustion engines. Reduced operational expenses are another benefit of the solution, Ballard said.
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 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. These products deliver 600W and 1200W respectively.
FCair 600 and FCAIR 1200 are currently in field trials, after proving themselves 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 reduce the 6,000 psi hydrogen storage pressure to 20 psi pressure needed for a fuel cell. These regulators that include features to assure safe and predictable operation, are also being introduced.
Dr. Jim Sisco, Ballard Unmanned Systems Technical Lead noted, “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.”
Benefits of Hydrogen Fuel Cells for UAVs (According to Ballard)
- Hydrogen is a safe and readily-available energy source
- Refilling is quick and easy – typically taking less than 5 minutes
- Lightweight, safe, and simple refueling and storage technologies developed for the automotive industry can be leveraged directly for UAVs
- Reduced noise, compared to internal combustion engines, results in lower acceptable flight altitudes and increasing sensor fidelity
- Fuel cells operate more efficiently at high altitudes than internal combustion engines, enabling effective use in mountainous regions
- Fuel cells produce no emissions and reduce or eliminate lithium battery disposal challenges and costs