Hyundai subsidiary Supernal plans for hydrogen aviation

Hyundai subsidiary Supernal plans for hydrogen aviation

April 7, 2022 1 By Julie Campbell

The firm has intentions for both H2 aircraft and eVTOL craft for use for regional flights.

It’s no secret that Hyundai has been interested in playing a central role in the future of electric aircraft, but its Supernal VTOL subsidiary has announced that it is also focusing on hydrogen aviation.

The company is focusing on developing air taxis using automotive-grade manufacturing experience.

Supernal recently made a presentation at the H2 Aero workshop from the Vertical Flight Society. There, the Hyundai subsidiary confirmed that it would be adding a hydrogen aviation component to its zero-emission aircraft strategy.

Hyundai/Kia and Toyota are among the top automakers in the world focusing on developing fuel cell systems in the automotive industry. That said, while battery electric vehicles have proven to be the most popular globally, Korea and Japan are both committed to creating hydrogen economies, and the aerospace industry is proving to be a promising area for development.

Those automakers have both produced fuel cell electric passenger cars such as the Nexo and Mirai, with relatively small but growing sales so far. That said, because those vehicles are in existence, it does mean that the automakers have already developed full hydrogen powertrains. Moreover, those designs have undergone full crash testing to ensure that they meet automotive safety certification standards in countries around the world. Therefore, they’ve had somewhat of a head start in stepping into the aerospace industry as well, which helps to explain Supernal’s plans.

Supernal is aiming to become an important player in the hydrogen aviation industry moving forward.

“We’re here to stay, and we want to be a prominent player in the aviation market,” said Yesh Premkumar, Senior Manager at Supernal while speaking to the H2 Aero workshop attendees at Long Beach. “I don’t think when you talk about aviation, the first name that comes to mind is Hyundai. So, one of the primary focuses for us to be here today is to allow you all to understand that we are looking to partner in all the areas that we are good at. There are lots of things about aviation that we need to learn and understand, and a lot of folks in this room have that understanding. There are capabilities that we bring that we’d like to lend to the knowledge that exists here. So, we want to foster that in bilateral partnerships as much as possible – all of it, from the aircraft to the ecosystem, to the infrastructure, to operation, all the way down to city planning.”

Hydrogen aviation - Strategies

Along with its hydrogen aviation plans, Supernal also launched inner-city eVTOL strategies

The company had already announced that it had substantial plans for inner-city eVTOL, which is a battery electric air taxi for the purpose of rapid cross-town trips from cities to sub-urbs and back in a zero-emission, low-noise aircraft. Take-off and landing will take place from vertipads. That plan will remain battery-powered, according to Supernal’s strategy, as those aircraft will never have to travel very far and won’t require range beyond what batteries can provide.

“The eVTOLs are not designed for ranges greater than about 75 miles (120 km),” explained Prekumar about why hydrogen aviation wouldn’t be needed in these trips. “That’s quite a long distance, there are no cities today that have a boundary level of 75 miles. We looked at multiple ways of solving the problem, and batteries popped out as the best solution for the short range.”

For the longer trips, however, hydrogen-powered eSTOL (electric short takeoff and landing) planes will be developed and deployed. They will serve longer trips between 200 and 1,000 kilometers long (120 to 620 miles). These craft will be the ones replacing regional aircraft flights. As is the case with today’s conventional flights, they will take off and land at airports instead of rooftop pads.

“For the regional mobility platform, hybrids were a valid avenue,” said Premkumar, explaining their decision to look into hydrogen aircraft instead of just those that are battery powered. “But we as a company have made a commitment to sustainability and zero emissions, and it just didn’t make sense for us to go backwards. The path forward was fuel cells. The fuel cell solutions are a TRL [Technology Readiness Level] level nine in the commercial market when it comes to ground transportation. So, it’s not a technology problem. We just have to figure out how to take that technology and apply it to aviation. We have some background understanding of the technology; we manufacture about 10,000 of them a year.”

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