Hyundai has its hydrogen aviation plans

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Hyundai has made it plain that it is serious about next-generation electric aviation, forming its own eVTOL company Supernal late last year and promising to use its automotive-grade manufacturing strength to mass-produce air taxis. Now, the company has confirmed that it is extending its hydrogen knowledge to the aviation field by giving a presentation at the Vertical Flight Society’s H2 Aero workshop.

Hyundai/Kia and Toyota, of course, have been the automobile industry’s two primary hydrogen fuel cell mainstays. Most passenger car applications in the world make more sense with batteries, but Japan and Korea are committed to building a “hydrogen economy” that powers much more than personal transportation, so these companies have persisted in building and selling relatively small numbers of fuel cell-electric cars like the Nexo and Mirai.

That means they’ve developed, produced, and comprehensively crash-tested entire hydrogen powertrains to fulfill automotive safety certification standards in several nations – a fantastic head start, you would say if you’re interested in expanding that knowledge into the aviation industry. And Supernal is clearly an avenue Hyundai is interested in exploring.

Supernal Senior Manager Yesh Premkumar told a group of VTOL aviation experts at the H2 Aero workshop in Long Beach last week, “We’re here to stay, and we want to be a big participant in the aviation business.” “When it comes to aviation, I don’t believe Hyundai is the first name that springs to mind. So one of the main reasons we’re here today is to let you all know that we’re searching for partners in all of the areas where we excel. There are many aspects of aviation that we need to study and comprehend, and many of the people in this room already do. We have skills that we’d want to contribute to the information that already exists. So we want to nurture it as much as possible through bilateral collaborations – everything from the aircraft to the ecology, infrastructure, and operations, all the way down to city planning.”

The inner-city eVTOL, a battery-powered air taxi built for short, clean cross-town city to suburbs trips from vertical to vertical, has previously been revealed. And it’ll all be powered by batteries.

“The eVTOLs aren’t built for ranges beyond roughly 75 miles (120 kilometers),” Premkumar explains. “That’s a significant distance; nowadays, no cities have a border level of 75 miles. We considered a variety of options for tackling the problem, and batteries emerged as the best option for the short-range.”

For lengthier journeys, the business announced it is developing a hydrogen-powered eSTOL (electric short takeoff and landing) jet with a range of 200 to 1,000 kilometers (120 to 620 miles), or maybe even beyond. These will serve as clean substitutes for regional planes, taking off and landing at airports rather than attempting to fly roof to roof.

“Hybrids were a viable option for the regional mobility platform,” Premkumar added. “But, as a firm, we’ve made a commitment to sustainability and zero emissions, and going backward just didn’t make sense. Fuel cells were the way forward. When it comes to ground transportation, fuel cell systems have a TRL [Technology Readiness Level] of nine in the commercial sector. So it isn’t a technological issue. All we have to do now is find out how to apply that technology to aircraft. We have considerable experience with the technology and produce roughly 10,000 of them every year.”

According to Supernal’s current “ballpark” schedules, the eVTOL will be in commercial operation by 2028, followed by the regional eSTOL in 2030.

“”However, when these platforms hit the market,” Premkumar continues, “the industry must be ready for commercialization.” Because of this, we have put a lot of emphasis on infrastructure.”

Before attempting an aerial assault that will strain the existing systems, the company believes it is critical to develop wider adoption of battery-electric and fuel cell electric powertrains across a broad range of use cases, to ensure the energy supply chain is established and reliable, and to achieve economies of scale.

“We want to utilize our ground footprint, then merge aviation and ground, and then find out how to build and market this entire ecosystem through the proper partnership structure, working with the right people, and using the right technology,” Premkumar added. But, maybe more crucially, influencing the correct use cases and demand structure for these goods.”

It’ll be fascinating to see what kind of advantage Hyundai’s fuel cell technology provides in this rapidly growing sector. We’d also like to know why VTOL isn’t part of the company’s regional transportation ambitions; the ability to take off from an inner-city helipad and fly all the way to the heart of another city while avoiding airport commutes would seem to be a strong selling feature. Where range is important, however, there may be less tolerance for energy-intensive VTOL operations.



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