The University of Michigan released a study, published in the Nature Communications on April 9th, comparing the efficiency of conventional ground transportation to a theoretical eVTOL aircraft.

conceptual image of an eVTOL

The study compared the energy consumption of these vehicles in various scenarios, accounting for various numbers of people and distances. The research team found that for the first 40 km (25 mile), eVTOLs had vastly higher energy consumption, with emission tripling that of an internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) and 6 times that of a battery engine vehicle (BEV). However, past that 40 km mark, the energy consumption for eVTOLs fell drastically, with eVTOLs being actually more efficient than ICEVs, and slightly above that of BEVs. This was also under the assumption that eVTOLs would be carrying more passengers compared to ICEVs or BEVs. For the actual emissions per passenger for a trip lasting 100 km (~60 miles), eVTOLs were 52% cleaner than ICEVs and 6% cleaner than BEVs.

graph comparing emissions between eVTOLs and regular transportation

ICEV: Internal combustion engine vehicle; VTOL: Vertical takeoff and landing; BEV: Battery electric vehicle.

The finding that eVTOLs may provide more efficiency than ICEVs and BEVs, combined with the fact that eVTOLs would provide quicker trips and less traffic, has huge implications for the future of the transportation industry. A key fact to consider, according to study co-author Jim Gawron, a graduate student at Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability and its Ross School of Business, is that “You’re able to essentially spread out the emissions more per person… Having multiple passengers also allows you to take more vehicles off the road.”

graph comparing travel times between eVTOLs and cars

“Our model represents general trends in the VTOL space and uses parameters from multiple studies and aircraft designs to specify weight, lift-to-drag ratio and battery-specific energy,” said co-author Noah Furbush

Considering that current transportation is responsible for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S, with 60% of those emissions come from light duty vehicles like passenger cars, it is probable that we see a shift soon to more BEVs and eVTOLs as opposed to the current dominance of ICEVs.

conceptual image of eVTOLs in an urban city

“We did not imagine that flying cars would have any role in a sustainable mobility system,” said study leader Akshat Kasliwal, a graduate student at the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems. “We were surprised to see that they do.”

Why it’s important: University of Michigan’s recent study adds support to the benefits that urban air mobility possesses over conventional transportation, and may lead to increased interest from the general public. While purely a theoretical study, the University of Michigan’s findings may hold significance for the companies interested in entering the UAM industry, specifically in how they should decide structuring their approach into not only creating an actual prototype and final product, but also what specific types of services they will provide with the most benefits.

Sources // University of Michigan, Nature Communications

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Posted by Naish Gaubatz

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