Hyundai explores hydrogen fuel cell technology for eSTOL aircraft
By Jen Nevans | April 4, 2022
Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 37 seconds.
Yesh Premkumar, senior lead of global partnership and business development at Supernal, said Hyundai’s play in the advanced air mobility (AAM) industry is not just about an automaker following a fad — the Korean company is set to make a name for itself in the aviation sector.
“We’re in it for the long haul. We’re here to stay and we want to be a prominent player in the aviation market,” Premkumar told spectators during the Vertical Flight Society’s first H2-Aero Symposium and Workshop last week.
Premkumar shared news that the automaker’s Korean AAM division is exploring hydrogen fuel cell technology to develop a longer range eSTOL aircraft, set to launch around 2030 to carry out regional air mobility trips in Seoul, South Korea.
This is the second aircraft that Hyundai plans to develop for its line of aerospace products. Supernal, the automaker’s U.S. urban air mobility division, is currently developing a battery-powered S-A1 eVTOL aircraft to launch passenger-carrying services in 2028, with Los Angeles and Miami as its first commercial markets.
Hyundai landed on battery technology for its eVTOL aircraft, believing it would be sufficient enough for the four-passenger air taxi to carry out intracity flights — trips that are no longer than 75 miles (120 kilometers), which is the maximum distance that eVTOLs using today’s battery technology can travel, Premkumar said
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To power its longer range aircraft, he said hybrid-electric was a viable avenue to carry out such trips, “but we, as a company, made a commitment to sustainability and zero emissions and it just didn’t make sense for us to go backward. The path forward was fuel cell.”
Using hydrogen fuel cell technology, the company expects its eSTOL to have a long enough range to complete intercity trips in South Korea, but the major hurdle is determining how to apply the technology to aviation. Premkumar said hydrogen fuel is “not a technology problem, it’s an application maturity problem.”
With Hyundai’s aircraft less than a decade away from what it hopes to launch commercially, Premkumar said when the aircraft are ready for the market, the company wants to ensure the market is also ready for its aircraft.
“That’s a big focus area for us,” he said. “We don’t want to just focus on [developing] aircraft — we want to focus on the operations of our aircraft as well.”
That’s why the company is setting its sights on building infrastructure that can support future battery- and hydrogen-powered aircraft, and Hyundai said it is looking to partner with key players in this area. The company previously teamed up with vertiport developer Urban-Air Port to build a network of take-off and landing pads — its first demonstration site is set to open in Coventry, U.K., later this month.