UAV Fuel Cell Power Solutions

First bad weather flight

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are making dramatic changes to many industries. From infrastructure and construction site inspection to agriculture and disaster response, ‘drones’ permit us to acquire and process data faster, with greater resolution, and at a lower cost per hour than ever before.

Drawing upon a decade of successful UAV fuel cell experience by Protonex Technology Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ballard Power Systems, Ballard offers a complete UAV fuel cell solution. Unmanned systems powered by fuel cells operate longer than their battery counterparts, with the same benefits of low thermal and noise signature. Users see improved reliability over small internal combustion engines, providing safe and low maintenance operation. 

Benefits of hydrogen fuel cell power systems:

  • Extend mission time and distance (3x typical) due to superior energy density
  • Enable beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) missions for dramatic operation expense reduction
  • Provide clean, quiet and reliable operation
  • Reduce lithium battery charging and transport obstacles 

Ballard UAV fuel cell systems have flown in platforms from Insitu, Aerovironment, Lockheed-Martin, and others. First demonstrated and matured for use with defense UAV platforms, Ballard commercial UAV systems are proven performers: rugged, reliable, and lightweight. Designed for operation in environmental extremes, Ballard UAV power systems enable BVLOS missions in agriculture, infrastructure inspection, first responder reconnaissance, and more.

FCAir-1200-AKey Facts About Hydrogen Powered UAVs

Hydrogen fuel cell UAVs typically include a combination of compressed hydrogen gas in a certified safe storage tank and batteries for peak power needs. Important features of hydrogen-powered UAVs include:

  • 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


White Paper -  Fuel Cell Powered UAS: Hydrogen Safety, Handling and Field Experience
The unmanned aerial system (UAS) industry has recognized that hydrogen fuel cell power systems are a critical enabler for beyond visual line of sight. Read more...

Informational - Complete Commercial Hydrogen UAV Solution
This paper outlines the UAS landscape and Ballard's complete solution for scalable modular power systems for a commercial platform integration. Read more...

White Paper - Drone Refueling
This paper touches on the current state of fuel cell UAS technology and takes a deeper dive into the economics and logistics of providing hydrogen to drone operators in the field. Different hydrogen generation technologies will be discussed and evaluated. Read more...
White Paper – Advanced Propulsion for UAVs: The Role of Fuel Cell-Based Energy Systems for Commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
Fuel cell-powered systems offer compelling value for unmanned aerial vehicles due to improved reliability over small internal combustion engines, enhancing safe and low maintenance operation. Read more...
White Paper – New Fuel Cell Technologies Extend Missions for Vertical Take-Off and Landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
Fuel cell power systems can provide at least two times the flight duration of the best available batteries on many VTOL drone platforms. Read more… 
White Paper: Remote Hydrogen Refueling for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles First demonstrated in military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), fuel cell systems now been proven from a reliability, durability, and range perspective, opening doors to commercial and civilian applications. Read more... 

Unmanned Systems Technology June/July 2017 Article: Protonex fuel cell for ScanEagle UAV A look at the development process behind replacing this UAV’s internal combustion engine with a fuel cell powertrain Read more...

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