Protonex Technology, the Massachusetts developer of fuel-cell systems for portable, remote and mobile applications, has received a $500,000 (£305,000) contract from the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to develop a high-power fuel-cell system for small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The award is an extension of an existing contract the company has with the NRL and will focus on incorporating and testing Protonex’s advanced fuel-cell power system within a new NRL vehicle designed specifically for long endurance tactical missions.
At present, battery-powered electric UAVs are limited to one to three hours of flight. But Protonex power systems integrated into other small UAVs have allowed this flight time to be extended by up to four times.
Last month, the company received a $265,000 contract from the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), also to support the development of a fuel-cell system for small UAVs.
Under the terms of that contract, Protonex will integrate a fuel-cell system into AeroVironment’s Raven UAV, the highest volume UAV in production.
The fuel-cell power system designed for this smaller UAV will be a scaled-down version of a system that was previously integrated into AeroVironment’s Puma UAV platform.
By incorporating a Protonex power system, the Puma UAV was able to fly three to four times longer than a similar design that used batteries.