Will the salvation of aeronautics go through hydrogen? Hyundai, the Korean automaker, is right there hard as iron.
Hyundai is one of those manufacturers who are betting big on the development of new forms of air mobility. In recent years, the Korean firm has laid the foundations for its development in this direction with Supernal, its branch dedicated to the development of eVTOLs. It thus hopes to advance its pawns on the future segment of individual flying vehicles; and according to New Atlas, this program will soon be kicked into high gear with new hydrogen propulsion technology.
After having tested this technology on its Nexo electric vehicles, it now intends to integrate it into a rather special flying vehicle, the SA-1. It is a VTOL, that is to say a device capable of taking off and landing vertically, much like a helicopter. Unlike the latter, however, they are equipped to move forward without having to tilt their rotor forward.
Like its Japanese counterpart Toyota, Hyundai is one of those companies that took an early interest in hydrogen; despite the fashion for electric cars, whose global popularity and brand image took off at the same time as Elon Musk’s Tesla, they continue to pursue their work in this segment.
Both brands continue to offer hydrogen models; their respective catalogs include the Mirai and the Nexo respectively, which both use this technology. But by integrating it into a flying device, Hyundai seems to want to take a considerable lead in this segment.
A true paradigm shift
In this case, it would be a slightly different concept. This hydrogen device would not be a VTOL, but a STOL (“short takeoff and landing”). This acronym designates devices capable of taking off and landing not vertically, but on exceptionally short runways. A mode of operation much more suited to urban and interurban journeys than a standard aircraft. Eventually, it could also replace the current engines across the entire range. This is a huge advantage compared to current eVTOL models, whose autonomy remains generally quite limited.
This strategy is absolutely not a risky technological exploration; the stakes are very high. As everyone knows today, the current model of aviation is fundamentally incompatible with many of the climate challenges that await us at the turn. Many observers therefore consider that the model of commercial aviation as we know it today is doomed.
It is therefore urgent to develop new approaches; and at this level, hydrogen is one of the promising leads. A boon for Hyundai, which has therefore been able to build on continuity by exploiting its already significant expertise in this technology. And thus occupying the ground preemptively, it could well find itself in a very advantageous position if this expected transition of aviation does indeed take place.
A whole model to rebuild
But before knowing if this bet will pay off or not, there is still a lot of work to be done in any case. Starting with the fact that if Hyundai masters its subject when it comes to hydrogen, it is still relatively new to the world of aviation. And that, the brand is well aware of. “There are many things in aviation that we will have to learn and understand”, explained Yesh Premkumar, manager of the Supernal project, during a show.
To develop its major aeronautical transition project, Hyundai therefore intends to learn from contact with all the players concerned. Aeronautics professionals, of course, but not only, because this transition goes far beyond the simple framework of technology. It is a shift that should also be felt at the level of infrastructure and urban planning, but also of the environment and the lifestyle of the population.
At present, the firm estimates that its first eVTOLs should arrive on the market by 2028. Hydrogen STOLs, on the other hand, could be marketed in 2030. It will therefore be interesting to observe the parallel evolutions of this project and traditional aeronautics by the end of the decade.