NREL modeling power requirements for regional air mobility


In partnership with NASA, NREL is modeling scenarios that could play out with electrified and regional air transit. The project includes evaluating how smaller airports could supply clean power to both the aircraft and the region.


A map of airports in the contiguous United States, of which only 30 service around 70% of all domestic flights. NREL, NASA, and others are studying whether future aviation could link a larger number of airports. Image from NASA

Regional air mobility integrates perspectives from manufacturers, operators, airports, and utilities. Such all-hands input is reserved for deeply transformational innovation, such as what is underway in mobility and energy systems. NREL’s expertise will allow these sectors to understand their overlap using integrated analysis and to find solutions that help all stakeholders.

As we’ve seen on the ground, energy delivery and transportation demand needs are converging, Our analysis will provide clarity to all partners—this is about moving forward together with both energy and transportation demand in harmony.

—NREL Project Manager Scott Cary, who leads the sustainable aviation research initiative for the laboratory

An important piece in the regional air mobility is the link between the electrical and transportation system: Switching to electrified aircraft requires a significant increase in the supply of electricity at airports. How that happens exactly—whether from on-site renewables or grid supplied—is a site-by-site discussion. Transit hubs are already having that cross-sector conversation as part of the Department of Energy-led Athena project, in which airports are preparing to decarbonize and accommodate new technologies like automated and electric vehicles. Regional air mobility continues the conversation to include electrified (and maybe automated) aircraft.

Using flight demand data from NASA’s contractors at the National Institute of Aerospace and at Georgia Tech, NREL is modeling scenarios that could play out with electrified and regional air transit. The scenarios imagine how smaller airports could supply clean power to both the aircraft and the region and how they might impact surrounding mobility.

For regional air travel, we’re taking flight demand and turning it into charging demand. From charging demand, we can look at infrastructure—how does demand fit with transmission, distribution, and generation? We are quantifying the possible outcomes of electrified air transit so that everyone has an early notion of what to expect.

—Jordan Cox, the study’s lead researcher at NREL

NREL is using the REopt platform to match flight demand to site-specific factors like electricity tariffs and renewable energy supply. Another NREL tool, Engage, can relate that demand to actual infrastructure buildout and land requirements. Across all research, NREL gathers information about costs and improvements to mobility, which is captured in part by NREL’s Mobility Energy Productivity metric.

This study is cool from the decarbonization perspective because we are seeing new opportunities for airports to become energy hubs. Even smaller airports might take on a larger role, using on-site renewable energy.

—Jordan Cox


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