Rolls-Royce and Hyundai team up on hydrogen-powered air travel

24 July 2022

rolls royce

The UK’s Farnborough Air Show has long been a stage for aerospace manufacturers to showcase new aircraft technology as well as sign deals and forge business networks. But this year, major players from the automotive industry used the event to announce a new joint enterprise.

Luxury-car manufacturer Rolls Royce confirmed a collaboration with Korean carmaker Hyundai Motor Group to bring all-electric propulsion and hydrogen fuel-cell technology to the advanced air-mobility (AAM) market.

Hyundai’s US-based Supernal arm also revealed its electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) cabin at Farnborough Air Show. The five-seat carbon-fibre concept highlights how Supernal is using automotive design processes and materials. This includes the centre console, the lighting system, and even the cabin layout.

The combination of an eVTOL design and hydrogen fuel-cell technology provides a glimpse into the potential future of travel. Drawing from their own competencies, automotive companies like Hyundai and Rolls Royce are poised to make sci-fi dreams a reality.

Region and urban applications

Rolls-Royce’s aviation and certification capabilities alongside Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel-cell technologies and industrialisation capacities will be deployed in the new partnership. The primary goal is to develop and deliver battery-electric and fuel-cell electric solutions to the urban-air mobility (UAM) and regional air-mobility (RAM) markets.

Rolls Royce and Hyundai’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) addresses strategic aims within the wider AAM market. These include the delivery of a joint fuel-cell electric-aircraft demonstration by 2025, as well as bringing a joint fuel-cell electric-propulsion system to the wider AAM market.

The signing of this MoU follows Hyundai’s announcement earlier this year, setting out its AAM business roadmap. The Korean manufacturer aims to offer eco-friendly air-mobility solutions for people within and between cities. Supernal is aiming to begin commercial services of UAM businesses in the country come 2028, while Hyundai Motor Group plans to launch RAM services in the 2030s.

Rolls Royce is no stranger to powering aircraft. The company has been building luxury vehicles since 1904, and not long after, moved into aircraft-engine manufacturing, transitioning from propeller power to the jet engine, becoming one of the biggest names across commercial and military realms.

Flying cars no longer the domain of sci-fi

On the ground, hydrogen-powered vehicles continue to generate excitement and draw investments. In February, Autovista24 reported that a record number of hydrogen refuelling stations opened in 33 countries throughout 2021, bringing the global total to 685, with plans for an additional 252 to go online in the coming months.

At the same time, flying cars are also preparing for take off. Hyundai has been progressing with UAM and RAM plans for some time, as have Suzuki, electric-vehicle (EV) manufacturer XPeng, as well as a tranche of smaller startups.

Sustainability is a key factor in Rolls Royce and Hyundai’s decision to explore hydrogen-powered air travel. A fuel-cell system acts as a zero-emission power source in all-electric aircraft, complimenting Rolls Royce’s plans to achieve zero-carbon operation by 2030, with all the company’s products being compatible with net-zero carbon by 2050.

Additionally, Hyundai will work with Rolls-Royce to bring hydrogen fuel cells, storage systems and infrastructure to the aerospace markets. This technology will help advance Hyundai’s RAM vehicles and Rolls-Royce’s all-electric and hybrid-electric propulsion system offerings.

‘We are delighted to partner with Hyundai, which provides a valuable opportunity to leverage and build on the capabilities each company brings from the aerospace and automotive sectors,’ commented Rob Watson, president of Rolls-Royce Electrical. ‘The AAM market offers great commercial potential, and this collaboration supports our joint ambitions to lead the way in this area.’