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Protonex fuel cell propulsion systems for civilian unmanned vehicles now EAR99-compliant for export

Ballard Power Systems announced that the company’s subsidiary, Protonex, received notification from the US Department of Commerce that its family of fuel cell propulsion systems are now designated as EAR99 (Export Administration Regulations 99) compliant, creating a path for commercial export and deployment in a variety of civilian unmanned vehicle applications.

This EAR99 designation opens the door for export of our family of fuel cell stacks and systems to approved destinations around the globe, in order to power an extensive range of aerial, marine and land-based applications. Fuel cells are an extremely strong fit for both civilian and military uses of unmanned vehicles.

—Paul Osenar, President of Protonex

Fuel cell systems offer a number of advantages over incumbent power solutions for all types of unmanned vehicles, including:

  • Greater reliability than small internal combustion engines (ICE);
  • Lower total cost of ownership than small ICE;
  • Lower noise signature than small ICE;
  • Lower heat signature than small ICE;
  • Longer operating range than batteries– greater than 3x; and
  • Lower weight than batteries.

Products with an EAR99 designation generally do not require a license to be exported or re-exported. The announcement creates a path for the deployment of Protonex fuel cell systems in civilian unmanned vehicles around the globe. In the civilian environment, fuel cell-powered unmanned vehicles can be used in a range of surveying and monitoring applications, including power transmission lines, railroad facilities, mining operations, oil and gas pipelines and platforms along with other critical infrastructure.

Protonex already has considerable experience in military unmanned vehicle applications, successfully collaborating with the US military in the demonstration of fuel cell system capabilities. In addition, the combined technical depth brought about through the acquisition of Protonex by Ballard in 2015 has led to an expansion of the available power range of fuel cell products from 100 watts up to 100 kilowatts.

In April 2016, Protonex provided Insitu—a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company—with a prototype fuel cell propulsion module for use in its ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). (Earlier post.) The ScanEagle platform has logged more than 800,000 flight hours, making it one of the most successful UAV platforms to date.

Insitu’s ScanEagle is a versatile platform with multiple payload capabilities, including providing high-definition imaging at a fraction of the cost of larger UAV systems. The ScanEagle is operated in conjunction with Insitu’s Mark4 Launcher, a low-maintenance, runway-independent platform, along with its SkyHook recovery system.



Near future FCs applications are multiplying as FCs get heaper and more liable. Many small FC equipped UAVs can now fly-cruise up to 24 hours with quick refill on-board fuel.

It is possible that near future small e-planes will be equipped with improved FCs instead of batteries.

By 2030 or so, FC powered e-planes could carry up to 50+ passengers for 1500+ miles.

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