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Supernal partners with National Renewable Energy Laboratory for “vertiport feasibility study”

By Chris Stonor

Supernal, an advanced air mobility (AAM) company from Hyundai, announced recently a partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), reports The aim is “to explore airborne transportation and AAM”, in particular, the feasibility of vertiports.

Supernal is developing autonomous eVTOLs capable of accommodating four to five passengers with the intent to launch commercial flights as early as 2028.

Venu Garikapati, NREL Transportation Data Analytics Researcher and Project Leader, commented, “As a leader in mobility innovation and equity, NREL is well positioned to offer a deeper look into the feasibility and impacts on the broader energy system for this emerging mode of transportation.”

Venu Garikapati

The article explains, “To inform the plans for a first-of-its-kind public eVTOL network, Supernal and NREL are collaborating with the city of Los Angeles to study this innovative aerial transit mode.” This new project is to take “a holistic look at AAM”, concentrating on the feasibility, opportunities and challenges of building eVTOL stations, known as vertiports, for future autonomous air vehicles.

“NREL researchers are,” continues the article, “evaluating potential locations, travel destinations, and energy demand that will shape the development of this innovative network.” It continues, “The analysis will answer critical questions to determine energy costs, market viability, public acceptance, station distribution, accessibility, and environmental sustainability of the vertiport program.”

NREL’s aim is to thoroughly evaluate existing and emerging mobility technologies and transportation hotspots and conduct market analysis within the greater Los Angeles area. NREL will use existing and historical travel data to develop a travel heatmap that incorporates travel time, costs, and demand for vertiport candidate locations.

Keith Ropchock, NREL’s Partnership Manager for the project, commented, “Our research will compare AAM flight options with the existing and emerging mobility infrastructure within Los Angeles.  In identifying vertiport candidate locations, NREL will inform the network map and business plan for Supernal’s airborne passenger vehicles.”

Researchers will leverage NREL’s Mobility Energy Productivity (MEP) metric to characterise, measure and inform movement to and from vertiports. This metric will highlight the feasibility of the AAM network by quantifying the accessibility of each potential location. An accompanying visualisation tool will compile NREL’s research data to allow the team to easily view and compare network options in Los Angeles and beyond.

Keith Ropchock

Garikapati continued, “Our team created the MEP metric to holistically measure mobility and ease of access provided to any traveller at any location. We are excited to apply MEP to eVTOL to provide insights in the trade-off of travel time, cost, and energy.”

Another aspect of the project will investigate the market share for emerging modal options such as AAM comparing service variables such as travel time, price, and vertiport access with sociodemographic characteristics to analyse the travel demand across passenger segments. This should lead to identifying the best locations for vertiports.

Jaiwon Shin, CEO of Supernal, said, “This research will allow our team to design a product that integrates with and augments existing transit options and effectively serves local community needs.”

Another focus of the NREL research will include evaluating the high-power energy requirements of eVTOLs including the cost and operational implications to the electric grid. “Researchers will determine energy supply and charging costs at each potential vertiport location to lay a foundation for well-coordinated integration with the grid.”

Future AAM research will leverage NREL’s Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems (ARIES) platform capabilities to identify system-level opportunities and risks of this emerging technology area.

Ropchock continued, “Extensive research into the energy implications of these airborne passenger vehicles is integral to the success of innovative AAM technologies. Our research will emphasise utility capabilities to determine the impacts of these high-load, fast-charging electric vehicles.” Adding, “Future collaboration with ARIES will allow researchers to evaluate and validate infrastructure components to ensure a smooth introduction of this new technology.”

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