The Integration & Commercialization of Advanced Air Mobility Aircraft and Logistics Systems

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The aerospace sector stands on the brink of transformation as Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) takes flight. These cutting-edge technologies will not only integrate new forms of transportation into our current mobility ecosystem but present significant opportunities for economic growth. Perhaps most importantly, the success of AAM aircraft in the real world hinges on the development of robust infrastructure and fully integrated logistics systems.

The Importance of Infrastructure

AAM aircraft, primarily encompassing highly automated uncrewed electrically powered aircraft, represent a new paradigm in air transportation. Their commercialization will create a future where goods and passengers are transported with unprecedented efficiency and reduced environmental impact. However, challenges like government alignment, infrastructure readiness (like power sources and charging stations), and cautious regulatory bodies, pose significant hurdles.

Today, AAM technology is being developed by traditional aerospace companies as well as startups around the globe. But commercializing AAM aircraft requires more than innovation. It requires the development and integration of critical infrastructure that supports the operational ecosystem for future electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and along with crew-optional or unmanned aircraft systems. AAM-specific infrastructure includes multimodal compatibility, 5G connectivity, sensory systems needed for communications, navigation, and surveillance, and a skilled workforce that can support this rapidly evolving industry.

Innovation Beyond Infrastructure

Until now, the AAM industry has kept its focus on innovation, but with commercialization quickly approaching, companies have begun shifting their attention to air mobility infrastructure and ecosystems that will continue to support them as they scale. Places like the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ) are uniquely positioned to support the AAM industry and serve as a catalyst for overcoming existing barriers. The MIZ is a first-of-its-kind, real-world ecosystem that brings cutting-edge technologies to commercialization at a faster rate, offering a unique set of air and surface logistic assets, including Perot Field Fort Worth Alliance Airport, BNSF intermodal hub, and a flight test center in addition to unparalleled access to resources and partnerships that are critical to scaling and commercializing AAM technologies.

Manna Drone Delivery, an Ireland-based drone delivery company, entered the North American market placing its first commercial operation within the MIZ, benefits from the robust infrastructure of the MIZ. For innovative companies like Manna to thrive, they require a forward-thinking and supportive environment where public-private partnerships are possible, and community members are receptive to their work as much as they require the physical infrastructure needed to test and scale. Thanks to a collaboration between Manna and Hillwood, Manna completed its first flight in the U.S., launching from a delivery hub located inside the MIZ last October. The Manna Aero drone delivered food, beverages, and candy from national and local retailers to Pecan Square, a Hillwood residential community. The on-demand approach to last-mile delivery is just one of many commercial drone innovations happening at the MIZ and will eventually scale to include a select number of Hillwood’s residential developments in North Texas. As part of the MIZ, Manna has been able to showcase the viability of AAM in a real-world setting and leverage the MIZ’s strong partnership with public sectors to accelerate its journey toward commercialization.

Recently, the joint NASA/USAF Agility Prime program successfully installed a high-bandwidth air-to-ground and air-to-air communications network at the MIZ. This initiative is a collaborative effort of the North Texas Cohort, including the Helicopter Institute, which provided the surrogate eVTOL aircraft, Unmanned Experts (UMEX), Advanced Air Mobility Texas (AAMTEX), and Hillwood at the AllianceTexas Flight Test Center. A collaboration with NASA and other partners in 2024 aims to transform Fort Worth and Tarrant County into a premier Urban Testbed for Advanced Air Mobility demonstrations. This ambitious endeavor will leverage the high-bandwidth network to ensure the MIZ remains at the forefront of urban air mobility innovation, setting new aerial communication and operation standards.

The AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone Ecosystem

Due to its potential economic impact and national security implications, the United States has prioritized achieving AAM leadership. The future of air mobility, which includes unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and other commercial drone applications, made substantial progress in 2023. Companies around the world are pressing forward with ambitious plans to create exciting new aircraft and technologies while the AAM sector generated $4.5 billion in disclosed funding last year, signaling its continued momentum.

The MIZ is an ideal hub for AAM innovation, attracting mobility visionaries, logistics companies willing to integrate AAM into their business, and infrastructure companies willing to build and establish aircraft corridors and the associated hardware needed to fully commercialize. Its unique mixed-use ecosystem offers a critical advantage within its vibrant community which nurtures both personal and professional growth, making AllianceTexas a magnet for talent crucial to the AAM industry. Additionally, the rich legacy and expertise of Hillwood, with its deep roots in aviation and innovation, provide invaluable guidance in navigating the intricate landscape of AAM commercialization, further cementing the MIZ as a pivotal player in the industry’s progression.

The journey towards commercialization and full integration of AAM aircraft and logistics systems is complex and multi-faceted. The MIZ stands at the forefront, demonstrating that with the right infrastructure, strategic partnerships, and a supportive ecosystem, the barriers to AAM commercialization can be overcome. While the adoption of automated commercial drones and other uncrewed aircraft might be a graduated evolution, the efforts and progress at the MIZ serve as a global beacon, guiding the way toward a new era in air mobility.

Reshoring Rare Earth Magnet Manufacturing to the U.S.: The AllianceTexas Advantage

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When it comes to electric vehicle production, a profound opportunity is emerging that promises to reshape the global supply chain. Key to seizing this opportunity is re-shoring critical magnetic materials to the U.S., a move that is vital for the future of electric vehicles, drones, intelligent transportation systems and the electrification of smart technologies. By creating a vertically integrated magnet manufacturing industry in America, it’s possible to build and accelerate the next generation of mobility and defense technologies and strengthen the supply chain.

Fortifying the Supply Chain

Bringing rare earth magnet manufacturing back to American soil is essential to transforming the supply chain. Rare earths serve as fundamental building blocks of the modern economy, enabling trillions of dollars in global GDP via a wide range of clean energy, information technology, defense, and industrial applications. According to the new market research report “Rare-Earth Metals Market – Global Forecast to 2026, published by MarketsandMarkets™, the rare earth market is expected to grow to $9.6 billion USD by 2026. Beyond the economic benefits, re-shoring this industry will also re-shore jobs, strengthen national security and capture a portion of the global magnetics market China is currently dominating.

Strategically Positioned for Growth

MP Materials, a leader in the production of rare earth metals, is working to close the economic and national security gap related to rare earth materials. In 2022, they commenced the construction of a first-of-its-kind rare earth magnetics factory, which set the stage for building a fully domestic U.S. supply chain. The strategic location of the factory within the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ) speaks volumes about the need for a consistent and trusted rare earth supply chain when it comes to the future of mobility and electric car technology. Magnets are the linchpin of electric vehicle production and supply chain innovation in the U.S. According to a report by independent research firm Adamas Intelligence, the demand for magnets is projected to triple by 2035, making the factory’s presence at the MIZ pivotal to innovations in aerospace, defense, clean energy and emerging technologies. The company’s large-scale rare-earth element mine is in southeastern California. It is the only integrated rare mining and processing facility of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. MP Materials’ new location at the MIZ will enable it to convert raw materials into finished goods, restoring an end-to-end supply chain in the United States.

Rare Earth in the Supply Chain

The MIZ ecosystem is uniquely suited to foster innovation in the mobility sector. With transportation infrastructure deeply integrated into the landscape, a highly skilled and reliable workforce, and abundant industrial capabilities, the MIZ was an ideal choice for MP Materials. Furthermore, the MIZ is zoned for heavy industrial, which streamlined the permitting process and allowed MP Materials to accelerate construction – slow permitting is a common challenge of operating in certain states in comparison to Texas.

Commencing in late 2023, MP Materials will begin producing materials at its new factory for General Motors EV program. The facility will produce magnets powering approximately 500,000 electric vehicle motors per year, with potential to scale. The project will also create approximately 150 high-skill jobs and 1,300 indirect jobs.

The AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone Ecosystem

The MIZ offers a unique and comprehensive ecosystem, providing mobility visionaries with unparalleled access to infrastructure, resources, and partnerships. This ecosystem is instrumental in scaling and commercializing new technologies, and MP Materials’ presence further cements its potential.

The journey to reshape the logistics industry and the global supply chain has begun. By re-shoring rare earth magnets to the U.S., we are not only creating economic opportunities but also strengthening national security and ensuring a sustainable future for smart technologies and intelligent transportation systems. As electrification continues to power our world, the importance of innovative ecosystems like the MIZ will be central to its success.

Ready to take the next step and push mobility into the future? Explore the boundless opportunities awaiting your business at AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone.

Achieving Sustainability in the Supply Chain: The Power of Integrated Technology and Infrastructure

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In today’s interconnected and globalized world, supply chains are critical in ensuring the smooth flow of goods and services across regions and countries. However, various and often unexpected challenges have hindered the creation of a seamless supply chain model, leading to disruptions and inefficiencies that adversely affect economies and communities. To overcome these obstacles and build a resilient supply chain for the future, cities, and businesses need to embrace public-private partnerships while leveraging cutting-edge technology and infrastructure to create more intelligent supply chain innovations.

Visibility Improves Efficiency

The current supply chain system faces significant bottlenecks and challenges that impact its efficiency. On average, every 3.7 years, major supply chain disruptions occur. From conflict and trade disputes to natural disasters and cyberattacks, disruptions can take a month or more to correct. The impact creates delays and congestion that lingers, but a lack of real-time visibility is a major reason supply chain operations can’t rebound quickly. To achieve resilience in the supply chain means having the ability to withstand disruptions, no matter what unforeseen circumstances occur, and quickly recover while maintaining seamless operations.

The US spends $2 trillion on shipping costs annually–70% of which is attributed to transportation–but intermodal rail and autonomous technology have the upward potential to reduce cost and greenhouse emissions by over 65%. Autonomous technology specifically has the potential to reduce drayage costs by up to 70% compared to traditional models that heavily depend on human capital. To achieve resiliency and sustainability in the supply chain, embracing advanced technology and interconnectivity is crucial. Regional, state, and national leaders must have the ability to leverage real-time tracking capabilities to monitor goods and services from departure points to final destinations. This level of visibility not only facilitates proactive decision making, but also minimizes risks, and elevates overall supply chain performance. As the market and demand continue to evolve, the need for integrated communication and supply chain innovation has never been greater.

The Port of the Future

Smart Ports are more productive, sustainable transport hubs offering fully integrated logistics systems that monitor the entire journey of goods, identify challenges, optimize solutions in real time, and function as an information-sharing platform between a variety of logistic actors. But their impact goes beyond mere efficiency improvements to deliver more holistic, long-term insights that improve and converge both the physical and digital worlds to provide a better quality of life for the companies, communities, and people it serves.

The AllianceTexas Smart Port, a $250 million public-private partnership, emerges as a solution that empowers the North Texas supply chain to function efficiently even during emergencies. By leveraging integrated communication, technology, augmentable microgrid solutions, and calculated surface infrastructure, the AllianceTexas Smart Port offers a one-of-a-kind ecosystem, providing a 24/7 transportation model that supports continuous logistics movement without interruption. The AllianceTexas Smart Port is strategically connected to a network of North Texas-managed corridors utilizing technology lanes to dynamically manage freight pathways across the DFW metroplex. On a state and national level, it resides along the 865-mile Texas Connected Freight Corridors, including critical border-to-border corridors like I-35 and I-45, making it possible to seamlessly move millions of shipments and track goods between Canada and Mexico more efficiently and securely than ever before.

With supply chain innovations like the AllianceTexas Smart Port in place, North Texas can efficiently handle complex, large-scale distribution challenges posed by the ever-increasing demands of manufacturing and e-commerce fulfillment companies. The insight-driven technology also serves as a safeguard against future unpredictability, such as global pandemics, providing invaluable protection to businesses and communities to secure sustainability in the supply chain regionally and far beyond.

The Case for Smart Ports

The benefits of the AllianceTexas Smart Port extend to businesses, consumers and local communities. For businesses, the Smart Port is a game-changer. It minimizes supply chain interruptions and enhances logistics efficiency, allowing companies to optimize their operations and ensure seamless product movement. Moreover, the Smart Port fosters resiliency and sustainability in the supply chain, reducing the vulnerability of businesses to disruptions caused by external factors.

On the consumer side, implementing a Smart Port ensures safer, less congested transportation routes, resulting in faster delivery times and enhanced access to goods and services. Additionally, the real-time tracking capabilities facilitate the timely delivery of critical medicines, vaccines, and disaster relief supplies, addressing health and community needs with greater responsiveness. Local communities also experience the benefits of a Smart Port, which escalates economic development and investment while reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions caused by alternatively powered vehicles, warehouses, and conscientious infrastructure.

AllianceTexas, with its existing transportation infrastructure, proves to be an ideal location for the Smart Port. Surrounded by over 70 million square feet of industrial Class A development, it offers a strategic thoroughfare for thousands of long-haul trucks daily, alongside accommodating the needs of two million area residents.

At the Gateway to a New Logistics Era

Attaining sustainable resilience in the supply chain begins with the seamless integration of technology and infrastructure. The AllianceTexas Smart Port sets a powerful example of how regional, state, and national leaders can work together to create a resilient supply chain model that scales not only the North Texas region but also has a far-reaching impact across the world. Embracing smart logistics hubs like the Smart Port is the path to a future where supply chains are robust, adaptable, and able to withstand any challenges that come their way. Investing in technology-driven solutions can pave the way for a truly resilient and efficient supply chain that benefits businesses, communities, and consumers alike.

Driverless vehicle company Clevon brings self-driving package delivery to town near Alliance

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Clevon, an Estonian self-driving vehicle manufacturer is putting its vehicles out on the streets in North Texas. Residents in Northlake, a town near the Alliance Airport, can now get packages delivered or picked up from PostNet Northlake by Clevon’s vehicles. 

The new service is part of what Clevon executives see as the start of the company’s expansion in the region. The company located its U.S. operations headquarters in Alliance Airport in North Fort Worth last year and plans to put 1,000 vehicles on the roads by 2025, Clevon CEO  Sander Sebastian Agur said. The company has authority to operate in Texas, Arizona, Utah, New Hampshire and West Virginia, he said.

“It’s not a science project,” Agur said. “It’s a real commercial service. And we are already operating on the public streets.” 

Many companies are coming to North Texas to test out and implement driverless vehicles due to lighter regulations and the proximity of the Alliance Airport. 

Clevon (NASDAQ: CLEV) partnered with a local packing and shipping store, PostNet, to deliver parcels to customers in the area. Clevon 1, the company’s electric delivery vehicle, can carry up to six packages to residents using PostNet’s services across three work shifts during the day.

Customers get a special code to enter to receive their package when the vehicle arrives. The vehicles drive up to 20 mph on the road for regulatory and safety purposes, but can go faster. The speed limits on the roads the robot is traveling is limited to 25 or 35 mph. It charges inside Lamar National Bank in Northlake at the end of each day. T-Mobile is the company’s data provider, which helps the machine navigate the roads. 

Clevon chose Northlake because of its proximity to the Alliance Airport, Meelis Anton, Clevon’s chief operating officer in the U.S., said. The company is also working closely with Hillwood, which is developing the area. 

Gary Good, owner of PostNet Northlake, saw the delivery vehicle as an opportunity to better serve customers. His business doesn’t employ drivers. Some customers who sell items on eBay bring 10-50 packages a day to him. A robot carrier can make things easier for them, he said.

“They could just sit there in their house and do more business,” Good said. “They could focus on doing their business, instead of having to make trips up here and load up their vehicle and bring it up to my store and have my team take care of those packages.”

Good said they are still getting the word out about the vehicles after a few weeks of operation. Clevon’s Agur sees opportunities to expand in the aviation sector, using the cars to deliver supplies and other items across the airport. The company already has multiple vehicles operating at the Alliance Airport, Anton said. City of Fort Worth to identify potential commercial partners to implement the technology as well. 

“The problems are big, and the rewards for everybody, for us, and for the consumers, are that much higher if we solve difficult problems,” Agur said.

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Self-driving delivery trucks are already on North Texas highways. How safe are they?

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For anyone who likes to complain about North Texas drivers, it might sound alarming to know that soon you’ll be sharing the highways with transport trucks that don’t have a driver at all. The Metroplex has quietly become the new frontier for the development of autonomous trucking, with several companies from around the world setting up operations here — and using North Texas highways for real-world testing. For now, these delivery trucks making stops at Sam’s Clubs, Krogers and other destinations do have a human behind the wheel — a safety driver in case of emergencies or technology glitches. Soon, that will no longer be the case.

The worsening shortage of people to fill trucking jobs is fueling a race among companies to bring to market a dominant driverless technology for the future of moving goods on the nation’s highways. Several of the largest industry players are now in North Texas, lured by the region’s central location on the transportation network and the state’s looser regulations. But that also has some experts worried about just how safe driverless trucks really are, given the technology is so new. An added concern for North Texas is that the companies are testing their trucks on highways here.

FORT WORTH: A NEW HUB FOR AUTONOMOUS TRUCKING

In Fort Worth’s Near Southside neighborhood, Volvo Autonomous Solutions, a division of the Swedish truck and vehicle manufacturer, opened an office in April focused on commercializing, selling and delivering autonomous solutions globally. The office at 401 Bryan Ave. will start Volvo’s U.S. highway activities aimed at transporting goods to and from customer hubs on long-haul trucks.

In partnership with self-driving technology company Aurora, Volvo plans to get a fleet delivering on one lane between Fort Worth and El Paso, and another between Dallas and Houston. To the north, AllianceTexas is home to a Mobility Innovation Zone, which allows for the testing, scaling and commercialization of new technologies. Experts say the zone gives Fort Worth a shot at becoming the Silicon Valley of mobility and innovation.

Autonomous deliverer Gatik expanded to Alliance in mid-2021, where it operates a research and development facility and North Texas operations hub. With offices in Canada and California, Gatik specializes in middle-mile deliveries up to around 300 miles round-trip.

Gatik’s self-driving trucks deliver to more than 30 Sam’s Club locations in the Metroplex. It recently went live with Kroger, moving goods from customer fulfillment centers to grocery stores across North Texas.

Alliance also is home to self-driving trucking companies TuSimple, based in San Diego, and the Swedish company Einride. Meanwhile, Google subsidiary Waymo is testing self-driving trucks on Interstate 45 between Dallas and Houston, and California-based Kodiak Robotics operates most of its self-driving operations out of Dallas.

WHY ARE ALL THE KEY PLAYERS COMING TO NORTH TEXAS?

Ian Kinne, director of logistics innovation at AllianceTexas developer Hillwood, said Texas has been the prove-it state for the industry. Kinne said he thinks the state wants to understand the technology and work with these companies to help them commercialize. “DFW has really become the spot for autonomous trucking in the U.S.,” Kinne said.

Texas is attractive to these companies because of its limited regulation, and because a lot of freight is already moving on its highways. Texas does not require autonomous trucks to have a safety driver, but Kinne said most companies still use one to “promote safety in the remote chance an issue occurs.” Kinne said safety is the first thing many of the autonomous trucking companies talk about. And, he said, wide-scale adoption of autonomous driving will be a gradual process.

While some states have different rules on testing and deploying autonomous trucks, Texas is very hands off on regulation, experts say. Texas’ regulatory environment means we could see more of these trucks on our roads. But that’s concerning to Philip Koopman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has been working on self-driving car safety for more than 25 years. Autonomous trucking companies decide for themselves when they think their vehicles are safe enough to operate on public roads, Koopman said.

“The government probably made that decision for jobs and economic growth,” Koopman said. “But the cost of that decision is you’re potentially putting other road users at risk, and there’s no way to figure out how safe it is. That’s the trade-off that’s been made.” Koopman said companies face tremendous pressure to get on the road, show progress and maintain investment of stakeholders. “One hopes the companies are responsible,” Koopman said. “Some have proven they are. Some have proven they are not. Under that kind of financial pressure, even the best leadership might find themselves with pressure to deploy even if they’re not ready. That’s a tough position to be in.”

Koopman said he would prefer to see external oversight that would relieve that pressure on companies to decide when is safe to remove the driver from behind the wheel.

HOW DO SELF-DRIVING TRUCKS WORK?

While companies’ techniques in mastering autonomous trucking vary, there are some common overlaps. Many companies use computer mapping to plan the path of a self-driving truck. In the case of Volvo, sensors log data while driving on a road that helps a computer understand the surroundings. Ceren Wende, the head of marketing and communications for Volvo Autonomous Solutions, said the company can then simulate pop-up scenarios that would change road conditions. These include construction zones, weather and obstacles like animals or the occasional pedestrian.

“We repeatedly train the virtual driver and hardware on these different scenarios and validate the results with real-world driving so we know that the vehicle will behave safely in these situations,” Wende said. Meanwhile, Gatik’s trucks are in continual two-way communication with the company’s remote monitoring centers. Richard Steiner, Gatik’s head of policy and communications, said from there, employees monitor the fleet and can provide remote assistance if there is a lane closure or unexpected construction. “Gatik’s remote supervision system has been developed to leverage human intuition, which ensures our autonomous fleet remains fundamentally independent, while safeguarding certain advantages of human-to-vehicle collaboration,” Steiner said.

While maps do a lot of the heavy lifting, they’re not necessarily foolproof, experts say. Self-driving expert Koopman said one problem is making sure frequently changing construction zones get updated on computer maps. “People will say they’re going to put all the construction zones on a map, but the first vehicle to see a construction zone doesn’t know it’s there,” Koopman said. “That can help other vehicles after the first one, but if that first vehicle is an automated truck, and it doesn’t know how construction zones work, you’ve got a problem.” One thing Koopman is not worried about is autonomous trucks merging and changing lanes. Most companies have spent considerable time teaching their vehicles to merge with the right amount of assertiveness based on the culture of the city to match prevailing traffic conditions, he said.

Koopman does worry about unusual things that happen on the ride, like overturned vehicles, bicyclists, crossing animals, grass fires and emergency vehicles. While the industry promotes safety, Koopman argues, there is not tangible proof or data to support autonomous trucks being safer than human drivers. “They could be safer — I’d be delighted if they were — but we don’t know,” Koopman said. “We can’t set policies assuming they’re safer, because there’s no data.” Despite his safety reservations, Koopman acknowledged the U.S. trucking industry’s labor shortage is a legitimate reason to pursue autonomous technology. The American Trucking Associations estimated a shortage of nearly 78,000 drivers last year and projects the shortage could surpass 160,000 drivers by 2030.

Meanwhile, leaders across the industry affirm safety is their main priority, and while North Texas trucks may still have a safety driver inside the vehicle, that’s not the case everywhere.

HOW SOON WILL WE SEE TRUCKS WITHOUT A HUMAN DRIVER?

Before coming to North Texas, Gatik began operations with food retailer Loblaw in Canada and went fully driverless last year. The company also began commercial operations with Walmart in Arkansas, where the retailer is based, in June 2019. Gatik pulled the safety driver out of its trucks in August 2021, Steiner said. “Safety is table stakes, front and center of everything we do,” Steiner said. “It runs deep within the fabric of the company. We always commence operations with a safety driver on board for safety, validation and verification purposes as we ramp up towards driver out on every single new route.

It took about two years to go driver-out in Arkansas, and about 19 months to go driver-out in Canada, Steiner said. “As we ramp up towards driver-out with our customers in Texas, that timeline will continue to shrink,” Steiner said. Steiner said Gatik is looking to remove drivers from vehicles in North Texas by 2024. Volvo’s Sasko Cuklev, head of on-road solutions, could only say his company is “getting close.” “We don’t have all the answers,” Cuklev said. ‘There is a transformation ongoing. We of course want to be part of that, but also learn along the way what is feasible and what is not.”

Cuklev said the race is not to necessarily be first on the road, but rather to develop an industrialized, safe and scalable solution that is commercially viable. Volvo has an ambition to be “one of the winners here,” Cuklev said. “Everything we do, we do with safety in mind, and we will never compromise on that,” Cuklev said.

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MP Materials: What A Successful Re-Shoring Strategy Could Look Like

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MP Materials is building a new permanent magnet factory in Alliance, part of greater Fort Worth, Texas. This is part of a $700 million investment to re-shore a critical but often overlooked part of the electric vehicle (EV) supply chain – the manufacture of rare-earth permanent magnets. China is the dominant supplier globally controlling 87% of the global permanent magnet market, and thanks to its control of most of the world’s rare-earth production it is also the low cost producer. Yet MP Materials is building a fully domestic U.S. supply chain in the face of these challenges. There are six parts of its strategy that warrant a closer look, as they could serve as a model for others who are trying to re-shore the production of strategically important products.

1. Vertically integrate and control the inputs

Much of the concern around the security of EV supply chains has centered on lithium, the key metal ingredient of high-capacity batteries. Permanent magnets have gotten less attention, but they deserve a closer look. They play a critical role in compact and efficient motors like those required for EVs, the generators used in wind turbines, and a vast array of products ranging from computer disk drives to the motors used ubiquitously in just about anything that turns electricity into motion. This makes permanent magnets a critical component in most aerospace and defense systems as well. The Pentagon recently halted deliveries of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II multirole combat aircraft (also assembled in Fort Worth) because the Honeywell-made turbomachine (part of the starter generator assembly) had magnet materials coming from China. The most powerful permanent magnets are made from an alloy of neodymium (Nd), iron (Fe), and Boron (B) in the form Nd2Fe14B. For those of you who aren’t chemists, this means two parts of the rare-earth element neodymium, 14 parts iron, and one part boron. As discussed earlier, rare-earths are a family of elements that most people have never heard of, yet they play critical roles in many modern technologies. Neodymium magnets are manufactured with either a sintering process, or a bonding process. General MotorsGM -2.8% was one of the original inventors of this magnet type in 1984.

MP Materials controls one of the world’s premier sources of rare-earth ores – the Mountain Pass mine in California 50 miles southwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. For decades it was the most important source of rare earths in the world. It’s also the only developed commercial source of ore in the Western hemisphere. Historically the company sold the mined ore to Shenghe Resources in Singapore (who had put money into the company) who in turn sold it to processors and magnet makers in China. With the increasing demand for EVs and wind turbines, it made a lot of sense to vertically integrate into magnet manufacturing, assuming you could find people who knew how to make them (and the company assures me that it has). Compared to the scramble we see among battery makers trying to secure supplies of lithium, MP Materials already has a lock on the supply of the most critical ingredient. That’s a huge advantage.

2. Acquire assets on favorable terms

The prior owner of the Mountain Pass Mine, Molycorp, Inc., had invested over $1.7 billion between 2011 and 2014, primarily in the construction of processing and separation facilities but also in implementing a process flow that used a lot of chemicals to extract the rare-earths. Molycorp went bankrupt, and MP Materials was able to acquire the mine and processing facilities in 2017 for $20.5 million. Acquiring assets on favorable terms is always a big plus, as it means you have less capital tied up (in this case, a LOT less).

3. Harness process innovation

After the ore is dug out of the mine, it needs to be processed to extract the rare earth metals, usually in the form of oxides, from all the other stuff you don’t want (called “gangue”). The Mountain Pass mine contains a mineral called bastnasite, and the first step is crushing the mined rocks and grinding them into a milled slurry. The slurry then goes to a froth flotation step where the bastnasite floats while the gangue is washed away to produce a mineral concentrate. MP Materials has optimized a process that allows recycling of 95% of the water used in flotation and tailings management. Compared to the predecessor company, MP Materials has been able to produce more than 3.2x the volume of concentrate using the same capital equipment. That means their costs per ton of rare earth oxide went way down.

In the next step, moving from concentrate production to the separation of individual rare earth oxides, MP implemented a new chemical extraction scheme to reduce costs and the associated environmental footprint. The previous owners had not optimized the process to maximize the production of Nd and Praseodymium (Pr), which are essential to magnets. Instead, they implemented a complex process that maximized production of all rare earths, including abundant but low-value elements that are not essential to magnets like cerium (Ce) and lanthanum (La). To optimize their processing facilities to maximize the production of Nd and Pr, MP Materials reintroduced a roasting circuit, which enables the removal of low-value cerium early in the refining process and dramatically reduces the energy, processing chemicals, and wastewater required to produce higher-value NdPr. This material is what MP Materials plans to transform into magnets in its new Fort Worth factory.

4. Secure stable demand

Investors always get nervous about large production operations that require big capital investments. How am I going to earn a return on my investment? Who’s going to buy what we produce? One solution is to secure an “offtake agreement,” which means contracting with a customer to buy the output. MP Materials signed up General Motors (GM) to buy rare earth materials, alloys, and finished magnets for the electric motors that it will use in the GMC Hummer, Cadillac LYRIQ, Chevrolet Silverado, and other EV models that will use its Ultium vehicle platforms, with a gradual production ramp beginning later this year.

Offtake agreements are quite common for many green energy projects, as they provide a degree of demand certainty for investments that take a long time to earn a return. Many wind energy projects don’t get started with construction until an offtake agreement is signed. Another possibility is a direct project investment: GM invested $650 million in Lithium Americas Corporation to help it develop the Thacker Pass mine in Humboldt County, Nevada.

5. Take advantage of interim subsidies to build scale

One of the forces that really makes this whole project work are subsidies for the production of critical minerals under Section 45X of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). This provision provides a 10% tax credit for the production of rare earths at Mountain Pass and other critical minerals production facilities across America. But Matt Sloustcher, the head of Government Affairs at MP Materials, pointed out that “in 117,000 words of the Inflation Reduction Act, the word magnet was not actually printed once.” To fill this gap, members of Congress recently introduced legislation to provide a production credit for the manufacturing of permanent magnets. Of course, eventually any subsidies will come to an end, and in the meantime MP Materials can build scale and come down the learning curve on cost. This is exactly what Chinese EV manufacturers did, so it’s not a bad model.

6. Choose a location that wants you, one where you can access talent

MP Materials chose Fort Worth because the city wanted them. “We recognized the importance of these magnets when it comes to domestic infrastructure, and how important they are to ensuring that Texas and the U.S. has direct access to these kinds of technologies,” explained Robert Sturns, Director of Economic Development for the City of Fort Worth. “We wanted to do everything we could to help out and ensure that Fort Worth could be part of it.” That included a seven-year tax abatement, a space in Alliance that was permitted for heavy industrial, which meant MP Materials was able to quickly secure permits to get construction going. Speed of permitting is an area where the U.S. suffers badly in comparison to abroad.

Workforce availability is also key. The Materials Science and Engineering Department at Texas A&M is growing quickly and will soon be one of the largest Materials Science departments in the country. Locally, the University of Texas at Arlington is heavily engaged in training next-generation engineers, and Tarrant County College is helping to teach the skills MP Materials is looking for in new employees.

MP Material’s domestic manufacturing plan is a great example of what a re-shoring strategy could look like. Let’s hope it works.

Natural Gas Solutions Leader Cummins Clean Fuel Technologies Expands in AllianceTexas

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FORT WORTH, Texas (May 2, 2023) – Hillwood announces recent lease renewal and expansion with Cummins Clean Fuel Technologies, further expanding their alternative fuel technology footprint in AllianceTexas and the North Texas region. Cummins Clean Fuel Technologies manufactures Cummins-branded natural gas fuel delivery systems at their facility in AllianceTexas for the North American commercial vehicle market.

“We are proud to be a leader in renewable natural gas (RNG) in the commercial vehicle industry and continue to support the intermediate and long-term growth potential of RNG vehicles due to the environmental and economic benefits, imminent regulatory requirements and corporate ESG goals,” said Mike Zimmerman, General Manager, Cummins Clean Fuel Technologies. “With our newly expanded space, we are better able to meet the growing demand for natural gas fuel systems as well as innovate and bring new products to market to support a wide variety of customers,” Zimmerman added.

When powered by RNG, using methane collected from organic waste as the primary fuel source, engines can be credited with a neutral to negative carbon index, resulting in net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at or below zero. Cummins Clean Fuel Technologies is expanding its operations to include an additional 50% of manufacturing space and will now occupy nearly 160,000 square feet in AllianceTexas’ Gateway 57 building at 1051 Republic Drive, Roanoke, Texas.  

“Hillwood’s commitment to convene leaders in logistics and supply chain innovation and alternative fuel solutions, here at AllianceTexas, is showcased by our enthusiastic reception of Cummins Clean Fuel Technologies expansion,” said Sam Rhea, director of industrial leasing at Hillwood. “By offering a variety of CNG fuel system configurations, Cummins Clean Fuel Technologies is well-positioned to meet the needs of fleets at AllianceTexas and beyond who have adopted natural gas technology.”

Hillwood, the developer of the 27,000-acre master-planned, mixed-use AllianceTexas development, recently established the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ) in North Texas. The AllianceTexas MIZ is leading smart infrastructure deployment to create a robust ecosystem for commercializing new technologies across the supply chain. The MIZ connects the people, places and ideas needed to propel innovation in surface and air mobility forward by offering businesses full access to an unparalleled ecosystem, resources and partnerships essential to comprehensively scale and commercialize the latest logistics and mobility technologies.

AllianceTexas is also home to a robust e-commerce network, including Perot Field Fort Worth Alliance Airport, BNSF Railway Alliance Intermodal Facility, FedEx Ground Hub, two UPS Ground Sort Hubs, the FedEx Express Southwest Regional Air Hub and Amazon Air Regional Hub.

Michael Haggar and John Worthen of JLL represented Cummins in the transaction. Samuel Rhea and Reid Goetz of Hillwood represented Hillwood.

 

About AllianceTexas

AllianceTexas is an unparalleled regional success story that has transformed the North Texas economy and connected the area to global industry. Consisting of 27,000 acres, the Hillwood development is anchored by the world’s first dedicated industrial airport, Perot Field Fort Worth Alliance Airport, and hosts one of the nation’s premier intermodal hubs. Today, AllianceTexas is home to 560 companies that have created more than 66,000 direct jobs and has approximately 55 million square feet of developed commercial real estate assets. The development’s cumulative impact since 1989 is an estimated $111 billion for the North Texas region. AllianceTexas is a mobility innovation zone and boasts corporate headquarters, healthcare providers, higher education centers, shopping and entertainment destinations, and vibrant residential communities. For additional information, please visit www.alliancetexas.com.

 

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MP Materials Begins Construction on Texas Rare Earth Magnetics Factory to Restore Full U.S. Supply Chain

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MP Materials Begins Construction on Texas Rare Earth Magnetics Factory to Restore Full U.S. Supply Chain

  • MP Materials and General Motors simultaneously announce a definitive supply agreement commencing in late 2023 to produce rare earth alloy and magnets for GM’s EV programs
  • The facility will create approximately 150 skilled jobs and approximately 1,300 indirect jobs
  • MP Materials’ Texas magnetics facility will source materials from Mountain Pass, California, and produce magnets powering approximately 500,000 EV motors per year, with potential to scale
  • The facility is a substantial component of a $700 million investment MP Materials will make to fully restore the U.S. rare earth magnetics supply chain over the next two years
  • Integrated recycling and leading environmental capabilities will deliver world class sustainability to support the energy transition

FORT WORTH, TEXAS, April 21, 2022 – MP Materials Corp. (NYSE: MP) today commemorates the start of construction at its first rare earth metal, alloy, and magnet manufacturing facility, located in Fort Worth, Texas. The first-of-its kind U.S. facility is a substantial component of a $700 million investment the company will make over the next two years to fully restore the U.S. rare earth magnetics supply chain. The project will create around 150 high-skill jobs and 1,300 indirect jobs and is located in Hillwood’s 27,000-acre, mixed-use development, AllianceTexas.

In parallel, MP Materials and General Motors (NYSE: GM) are co-announcing a definitive supply agreement to produce alloy and magnets for GM’s EV programs. The definitive supply agreement solidifies the terms of a binding agreement announced by MP Materials and GM in December. Under the long-term agreement, MP Materials will supply U.S.-sourced and manufactured rare earth materials, alloy, and finished magnets for the electric motors in more than a dozen models using GM’s Ultium Platform, with a gradual production ramp that is expected to begin in late 2023, starting with alloy.

MP Materials’ Fort Worth facility will have the capacity to produce approximately 1,000 tonnes of neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) magnets per year, supporting the production of approximately 500,000 EV traction motors, with room to scale. In addition to EVs, NdFeB magnets are critical inputs to robots, wind turbines, drones, defense systems, and many other high-growth technologies. Adamas Intelligence, an independent research firm, forecasts that global demand for NdFeB magnets will triple by 2035 on the back of rising demand for EV traction motors, wind power generators, energy efficient consumer appliances, and more.

In February, the Department of Defense awarded MP Materials $35 million to refine and separate heavy rare earth elements at the company’s Mountain Pass, California, rare earth materials production facility. MP’s Texas magnetics factory will source refined feedstock from Mountain Pass and transform it into finished products, delivering an end-to-end supply chain, including mining and refining, metal, alloy, and magnet manufacturing, and recycling.

Mountain Pass is a closed loop, zero-discharge facility with a dry tailings process that recycles more than 1.7 billion liters of water per year. To optimize for efficiency and sustainability, byproduct generated from alloy and magnet manufacturing will be recycled in a closed loop to every extent possible.

James Litinsky, Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer, MP Materials

“Bringing magnetics capabilities home is transformational for MP Materials and America’s supply chains. I am very proud that after a series of executive orders spanning multiple presidential administrations MP Materials is leading the restoration of the full supply chain and the revitalization of the American manufacturing spirit in our sector.”

Anirvan Coomer, Executive Director, Global Purchasing & Supply Chain, General Motors

“The new MP Materials magnetics facility in Fort Worth, Texas, will play a key role in GM’s journey to build a secure, scalable, and sustainable EV supply chain. As the foundational automotive customer of the Fort Worth facility, GM will use the products from this plant in the GMC HUMMER EV, Cadillac LYRIQ, Chevrolet Silverado EV, and more than a dozen models based on GM’s Ultium platform. We also look forward to collaborating with MP Materials from a public policy perspective to seek policies that are supportive of the establishment of an efficient U.S.-based rare earth and magnet supply chain.”

Ross Perot Jr., Chairman, Hillwood and The Perot Group

“Today is an exciting day for North Texas and our entire country. MP Materials is not only bringing their state-of-the art magnetics facility to AllianceTexas, but also reshoring important next-generation manufacturing jobs to America. Securing and developing rare earth materials is one of the most important national security issues of our day, and we’re proud that AllianceTexas can partner with MP Materials to play a key role in America’s ability to power its future.”

The Honorable Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator for Texas

“The United States needs to do everything we can to end our dangerous dependence on China for rare earth elements and critical minerals across the entire supply chain. It is both significant and important that MP Materials is going beyond mining and into alloying and manufacturing, and I’m deeply proud of the role Texas is playing in these projects.”

The Honorable Kay Granger, U.S. Representative for Texas

“MP’s investment will bring hundreds of new jobs and millions in economic growth to the TX-12 community. Rare earth materials are crucial for many defense systems, and by producing these much-needed magnets, this facility will reduce our dependence on countries like China. For the sake of our national security, we must continue to increase domestic rare earth production, and I’m proud that we will do that right here in Fort Worth.”

The Honorable Beth Van Duyne, U.S. Representative for Texas

“Rare earth magnets are essential for U.S. economic and national security, and it is vital to our national interest that we manufacture these components at scale here at home. I applaud MP Materials for building this landmark facility in Fort Worth, and I’m pleased that Texas is at the forefront of restoring this important supply chain back to America.”

The Honorable Marc Veasey, U.S. Representative for Texas

“Rare earth magnets are critical to the energy transition and security of the United States. It is essential we manufacture these components in the United States from domestic materials sourced in an environmentally responsible manner. The people of TX-33 are prepared to support and lead this effort.”

The Honorable Michael Burgess, U.S. Representative for Texas

“When it comes to solving the energy crisis facing our nation, we need innovative and visionary solutions at the forefront. It is exciting that Texas is able to welcome another energy provider today with the groundbreaking of MP Materials’ new rare earth alloying and magnet manufacturing facility. I hope you will join me in welcoming MP Materials to our community.”

The Honorable Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas

“Congratulations to MP Materials on the groundbreaking of their new magnet manufacturing facility and engineering headquarters in Fort Worth. This incredible investment will not only create more than 100 new jobs for hardworking Texans, but will also bolster the state’s supply chain in high-tech industries while solidifying Texas as a mecca for advanced manufacturing and innovation. It’s thanks to industry innovators like MP Materials that ‘Made in Texas’ continues to be the most powerful global brand.”

The Honorable Mattie Parker, Mayor of Fort Worth

“This new MP Materials facility is an excellent fit for the groundbreaking work being done at AllianceTexas, and it presents an incredible opportunity to bring more advanced manufacturing jobs home to the U.S. right here in Fort Worth. Our local, state, and national economic and mobility goals require secure development of rare earth magnets, and I am proud that Fort Worth will serve as a center for our nation’s focus on advancing this effort.”

About MP Materials

MP Materials Corp. (NYSE: MP) is the largest producer of rare earth materials in the Western Hemisphere. The Company owns and operates the Mountain Pass Rare Earth Mine and Processing Facility in California, North America’s only active and scaled rare earth production site. Separated rare earth elements are critical inputs to the world’s most powerful and efficient magnets found in electric vehicles, drones, defense systems, wind turbines and various advanced technologies. The Company is developing U.S. metal, alloy and magnet manufacturing capacity to build these critical components domestically. More information is available at https://mpmaterials.com/.

Join the MP Materials community on TwitterInstagram and LinkedIn.

 

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Forward-Looking Statements

This press release contains certain statements that are not historical facts and are forward-looking statements for purposes of the safe harbor provisions under the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements may be identified by the use of words such as “estimate,” “plan,” “project,” “forecast,” “intend,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “believe,” “seek,” “will,” “target,” or similar expressions that predict or indicate future events or trends or that are not statements of historical matters. These forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, statements regarding the Company’s expected investment to restore the rare earth supply chain in the United States, the expected number of employees and jobs being created in connection with the Company’s Forth Worth facility, statements regarding the long-term agreement with General Motors and the Company’s ability and timing to supply U.S.-produced NdFeB alloy and magnets. Such statements are all subject to risks, uncertainties and changes in circumstances that could significantly affect the Company’s future financial results and business.

Accordingly, the Company cautions that the forward-looking statements contained herein are qualified by important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those reflected by such statements. These forward-looking statements are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties, including changes in domestic and foreign business, market, financial, political and legal conditions; uncertainty of the projected financial information with respect to the Company; continued demand for NdFeB magnets which may decrease materially in the future; risks related to the Company’s long-term agreement with General Motors; the Company’s ability to produce and supply NdFeB magnets to third parties, including General Motors, is subject to a number of uncertainties and contingencies; the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, on any of the foregoing risks; and those risk factors discussed in the Company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including Annual Reports on Form 10-K, Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, Current Reports on Form 8-K and other documents filed by the Company with the Securities and Exchange Commission. If any of these risks materialize or our assumptions prove incorrect, actual results could differ materially from the results implied by these forward-looking statements. The Company does not intend to update publicly any forward-looking statements except as required by law. In light of these risks, uncertainties and assumptions, the forward-looking events discussed in this earnings release may not occur.

Contact

Matt Sloustcher

[email protected]

Hillwood’s Forward Mobility Summit in Fort Worth Focuses on A Vertically Integrated Mobility Approach

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Hillwood hosted the second annual Forward Fort Worth mobility innovation summit early in March this year, a gathering of 150 supply chain executives, entrepreneurs, and investors from across the globe committed to advancing and commercializing mobility innovation throughout the supply chain.

“Now more than ever, surface and air mobility innovation across the supply chain requires a powerful combination of people, places and unparalleled strategic partnerships,” said Hillwood Director of Logistics Innovation Ian Kinne. “The two-day event provided a great opportunity for discussion on the innovative technologies and advancements that will ultimately shape the future of mobility for a wide variety of supply chain stakeholders.”

On March 1st, Mike Berry, president of Hillwood, was joined by Fort Worth Mayor, Mattie Parker and Perot Jain Managing Partner, Anurag Jain to welcome attendees and kick off the program at Hotel Drover in Mule Alley. With the overarching goal of driving cross-stakeholder conversations that accelerate the commercialization of transformative mobility technologies throughout the supply chain, the two-day event featured the following panel topics:
     • Warehouse of the Future 
     • The Integration & Commercialization of Advanced Air Mobility Aircraft
     • The Future of Transportation: OEM Perspective
     • FreightWaves State of the Market
     • Which Comes First, Vehicles or the Infrastructure? 
     • Investing in Technologies for Resilient Supply Chains

Speakers and panelists represented AFWERX, City of Fort Worth, ConGlobal, Crown Castle, DroneUp, FAA Southwest Region, FreightWaves, Gideon, Great Dane, Hillwood, Ironspring Ventures, Joby Aviation, NASA, NFI, Nikola Corp., PepsiCo, Perot Jain, Peterbilt Motors, Robotic Research, Ryder System, Inc., Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, Terberg Taylor Americas, Uber Freight, Visit Fort Worth, and Waabi.

Why it’s important: Hillwood’s Forward Mobility Summit focused on an entire mobility ecosystem and included attendees from various areas of the industry, not just on companies manufacturing eVTOLs or electric vehicles or the IT or software firms that help to coordinate logistical problems; the summit helped to bring together a variety of players that more completely represent multimodal approaches to mobility and who will hopefully be able to leverage one another’s strengths to more efficiently build out the future mobility landscape in Fort Worth and beyond.

Learn more about Hillwood’s focus on convening mobility innovators and visionaries at the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone here.

Fort Worth Approves Policy that Defines and Guides Innovation Districts

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To help foster partnerships between public and private entities that drive research, new product development, commercialization and supporting activities, Fort Worth City Council approved a new policy on March 21 that defines and guides the formal designation of innovation districts.

According to a city press release, two areas of Fort Worth that were already well-known as clusters of innovation in the city’s target industries—the Fort Worth Medical Innovation District and the Fort Worth Mobility Innovation Zone—were also formally designated as innovation zones.

Innovation districts are specific geographic areas where, according to the press release, clusters of companies and anchor institutions can connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators and producers of marketable intellectual property, and are typically defined by the following characteristics:

Organizations within the district tend to focus on a specific industry or set of interrelated industries.

The district itself is focused on interconnectivity by being—or becoming—walkable and transit-accessible, and offering supporting mixed-use housing, office and retail to create a true “live, work and play” environment.

The district is defined by clear and specific boundaries that include key anchor institutions, such as a university or research hospital, and related businesses that distinguish the area from its surrounding neighborhood.

Fort Worth’s innovation districts must be fully located within the city limits or its extraterritorial jurisdiction.

According to the press release, the terms of Fort Worth’s innovation districts are indefinite, but each district will be evaluated after five years to reassess its boundaries and recommend any changes. The evaluation will also include an analysis of the district’s continued benefit to the city.

The boundaries of the Fort Worth Medical Innovation District includes I-30 and Vickery Boulevard to the north; Allen Street and West Arlington Avenue to the south; east across I-35W to Kentucky and Evans avenues; and west to the Fort Worth & Western Railroad.

The district includes Texas Christian University’s new Anne Marion Burnett School of Medicine, UT Southwestern’s academic medical center, biotech incubator TechFW, Fort Worth’s major hospitals and dozens of independent clinics.

The press release stated the Fort Worth Medical Innovation District will also include several nodes of innovation outside of the district’s boundaries, including the campuses of Texas A&M School of Law, University of North Texas Health Science Center and The University of Texas at Arlington’s Research Institute.

According to the press release, the Fort Worth Mobility Innovation Zone is anchored by Alliance Airport and Alliance Intermodal Facility, and continues north along I-35W near Texas Motor Speedway. It includes the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone—an area that allows for the testing, scaling and commercialization of new technologies in surface and air mobility, along with supporting resources and partnerships.

The MIZ’s unmanned aerial system proving grounds were the testing site for Alphabet’s Wing drone delivery service, according to the press release. The MIZ is home several autonomous trucking operations and logistics companies, including Clevon, an Estonian-based company that develops self-driving robot couriers, that opened in its U.S. headquarters in Fort Worth in late 2022.

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