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Insitu advances UAV hydrogen fuel-cell technology

Boeing subsidiary Insitu has revealed fresh details about its ongoing work to advance hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The company said in a 21 March statement that it has successfully completed the first fill test of a liquid hydrogen (LH2) storage tank designed for its ScanEagle 3 mini-UAV.

The trial – which was carried out at Washington State University’s Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HyPER) laboratory in February – comprised liquid hydrogen fill, pressure, and vapour generation testing.

“The tests verified operation performance metrics of the LH2 tank in preparation for upcoming flights of ScanEagle 3 equipped with a PEM [proton exchange membrane] fuel cell power system,” Insitu stated.

“The LH2 Tank Integration project is part of a larger development effort to compare acoustic and thermal signatures of a small UAV powered with an internal combustion engine versus an all-electric power system,” it added.

The company earlier completed the maiden flight of a ScanEagle 3 UAV powered by an all-electric, hydrogen-fuelled PEM fuel cell in December 2020. The air vehicle’s 30-minute trial validated initial performance assumptions including power output, climb rate, and flight behaviour in preparation for subsequent testing with the LH2 storage tank.

“The 3D-printed LH2 tank is an industry first and is expected to support 10+ hours of endurance for ScanEagle 3,” Insitu said, noting that testing is expected to continue through the second quarter of the year with the first liquid hydrogen-powered flight planned for August.

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