Protonex Technology Corp. announced that it has received an $800,000 extension to a previously awarded contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to optimize performance of its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) propulsion system – ProCore™ UAV. The advanced version of the system is expected to enable longer flight times and increased payload capability of small unmanned aircraft.
Under this extended program, Protonex will increase the power density of the ProCore™ UAV fuel cell system. In addition, Protonex will work with subcontractor Millennium Cell, Inc. to advance the chemical hydride fueling subsystem to increase energy density. According to the company, these improvements to power and energy density have the potential to deliver fuel cell power systems that can offer up to four times the available energy of batteries of the same size and weight.
Recently, Protonex and UAV manufacturer AeroVironment (AV) successfully flew the AV Puma small unmanned aircraft for nearly five hours powered by a ProCore™ UAV hybridized with a battery. Puma’s standard propulsion system comes equipped with rechargeable batteries with a listed flight time of 2.5 hours. The nearly five-hour duration of the Puma flight using fuel cell battery hybrid power surpassed the longest previous Puma flight achieved by AeroVironment using any technology.
With the anticipated improvements to the ProCore™ UAV system, Protonex expects to achieve flight times of up to ten hours. This capability will address the rapidly growing segment of UAVs designed for surveillance, search and rescue, chemical-biological monitoring and other long-endurance specialty missions.
"Increased endurance and payload capacity are critical capabilities that are not feasible with current battery technology being used in small unmanned aerial vehicles today," stated Dr. Paul Osenar, Chief Technology Officer, Protonex. "We continue to work with leaders in the UAV field to advance this enabling technology, including military end-users and UAV manufacturers, and expect these efforts to yield a significant market opportunity for our fuel cell products."