How Batteries Are Powering Advanced Air Mobility

Q&A with Kyle Heironimus, Head of Powertrain at Supernal


Kyle Heironimus, Head of Powertrain at Supernal

Advances in battery technology will enable electric air vehicles to fly further, carry more cargo and contribute to more sustainable form of travel. We asked Kyle Heironimus, Head of Powertrain at Supernal, for his take on the innovative battery and powertrain solutions that are powering the future of transportation.

What is the Advanced Air Mobility powertrain and what does it do?

Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) powertrain use advanced electric motor driven rotors to convert the chemical energy stored in batteries into thrust to propel aircraft safely and efficiently through the air.

For electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, the thrust generated by the electric powertrain is able to lift the aircraft vertically into the air on its rotors like a helicopter and also fly quickly, quietly, and efficiently on its wing like an airplane.

Lifting an aircraft full of passengers and cargo vertically into the air requires significant power. The power consumed during an eVTOL aircraft’s vertical takeoff and transition to windborne flight is similar to the power required to make a car go from 0 to 60 mph in under 2 seconds — except the aircraft needs to provide that power for more than 30 seconds — 15x longer in duration than the world’s fastest cars Furthermore, AAM powertrain must be incredibly lightweight so that they can pick themselves off the ground along with the passengers. No simple feat!

What aspects of battery technology are vital for Advanced Air Mobility?

Batteries are the heart of AAM aircraft. AAM batteries must provide high power for long periods to enable vertical takeoff, be light enough to sustain reasonable flight times and cargo loads, demonstrate good durability to provide a long life and meet the highest commercial aviation safety standards. In short, AAM batteries must accomplish a great deal to enable electric flight.

In fact, battery performance is one of the reasons eVTOL vehicles are not yet in commercial operation today — we’re on the cusp of having the technology needed for scalable AAM flights.

Batteries used in automotive or other commercial applications have not been optimized to meet the correct balance of safety, power, energy, cycle life, charge time, and cost requirements for AAM. While many existing and emerging battery technologies can be applied to AAM, dedicated research and development by the AAM industry is continuing to unlock the potential of battery electric flight.

Why is it important to work with partners to develop battery technology for Advanced Air Mobility?

Although there are many different types of AAM vehicles under development by hundreds of companies around the world, AAM battery requirements are surprisingly similar across the industry. Batteries for eVTOL vehicles need a familiar balance of safety, power, energy, cycle life, charge time, and cost effectiveness — different from the balance of other industries like automotive.

While competition is certainly healthy, the entire AAM industry benefits from improvements in battery performance and availability. Lighter, more powerful batteries mean more use cases for eVTOLs, which allows for better economies of scale and less expensive operations for the industry overall. Scaling AAM supports our vision to create an AAM ecosystem that is accessible to everyone– not just for the privileged few.

How does battery technology contribute to sustainable transportation?

Battery technology is at the core of sustainable electric air vehicles. The battery electric propulsion systems used in electric air vehicles are a more sustainable option than fossil-based fuels. Furthermore, the batteries create novel electric propulsion system arrangements that allow electric air vehicles to travel quietly and efficiently.

How are batteries developed for aviation or advanced air mobility different than automotive batteries?

In many ways batteries developed for AAM are very similar to automotive batteries. Many of the same materials, technologies and processes used to produce automotive batteries today will be used by the AAM industry. That said, AAM batteries are optimized for a different set of priorities than automotive batteries.

While automotive battery development has a strong focus on reducing cost, the AAM industry is actively working to reduce the battery weight while increasing power and energy. Despite the potential increased manufacturing cost, the reduced weight of the batteries allows AAM aircraft to carry more payload over longer distances — enabling a viable a business case for electric aviation. AAM is actively exploring many “next gen” or “advanced” battery technologies that would be considered cost prohibitive for automotive applications today. In the near future, it’s possible that we will see battery innovations from AAM applications making their way into automotive electric vehicles as well!