Fortune 100 companies are continuing investment in the drone industry. In further evidence of their interest in urban air mobility (UAM) and other advanced applications, Honeywell (NYSE: HON) purchased Ballard Unmanned Systems assets last month. Ballard Unmanned Systems is “a wholly owned subsidiary of Southborough, Mass.-based Ballard Power Systems Inc. Ballard Unmanned Systems designs and produces industry-leading, stored-hydrogen proton exchange membrane fuel cell systems that power unmanned aerial systems (UAS), particularly those used for energy inspection, cargo delivery, and other commercial and defense applications where demand for UAS services is growing,” says a Honeywell press release.
Honeywell purchased Ballard Unmanned Systems’ “key intellectual property, inventory and equipment of Ballard Unmanned Systems,” says the release. “Ballard’s team of fuel-cell experts will also join Honeywell as part of the acquisition.”
“Adding Ballard Unmanned Systems to the Honeywell family is another example of our commitment to invest in the growing UAS segment,” said Mike Madsen, president and chief executive officer, Honeywell Aerospace. “We can now begin producing top-quality, scalable power systems for our UAS customers and eventually adapt these systems for other future aerospace, defense and adjacent segment applications.”
The traditional batteries used by most commercial drones today have significant limitations: sooner or later, they run out of power and need to be recharged, limiting flight times. Fuel cells offer an alternative to traditional batteries, using the chemical energy of hydrogen or another fuel to produce electricity. Hydrogen fuel cells can offer drones longer flight times without recharging, critical for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) applications like passenger drones and cargo delivery.
“Ballard Unmanned Systems’ fuel cell power systems can run up to three times longer than batteries and are five times more reliable than small engines. Furthermore, unlike traditional gas engines that have carbon emissions, they utilize hydrogen, a clean source of energy.”
“With the added capabilities of Ballard Unmanned Systems, Honeywell intends to introduce a family of fuel cell power systems for a variety of UAS vehicles. Honeywell will also collaborate with Ballard Power Systems on broader aviation applications,” says the release.