From Paris to Berlin in 1 hour, or How to accelerate a hyperloop to incredible speeds

Hyperloop Is a breakthrough concept that will soon become a breakthrough for Zeleros, a startup capable of bringing an idea to life through a unique approach.

Image source: Zeleros
Image source: Zeleros

Hyperloop Is an ultra-high-speed levitating train on magnetic rails, multiplied by a vacuum tube. Or rather, placed in it. The absence of air resistance (vacuum) will allow the train to accelerate to incredible speeds. This is still only a concept, but it is getting closer and closer to reality. Probably, very soon we will get an ultra-fast and environmentally friendly way of transportation. And you won’t even have to get off the ground.

In November 2020, two people have already zipped in such a train through the desert near Las Vegas. This was Virgin Hyperloop’s first run in Hyperloop. The trip lasted only 15 seconds, and the speed was almost 10 times less than the promised 1200 kilometers per hour (only 160 km / h came out), but this is some kind of step forward, giving hope for further development of the technology.

There is a possibility that the hyperloop will drastically affect the future of transportation, in particular, the movement over medium distances. This is understandable – the technology combines the comfort of high-speed trains and the speed of an airplane, but with much less stress on nature and with less energy consumption. For this reason, already several engineering teams across Europe are working in parallel on the development of the concept.

A bit of history

The idea of ​​a vacuum train got new life in 2013 thanks to Elon Musk, who is in charge of Tesla, SpaceX and Neuralink. Then the engineers of the auto concern showed the first “Open” concept of hyperloop… Immediately after that, dozens of engineering teams tried to offer their own version of the turbo train. Some teams consisted only of students, in particular specialists from Valencia.

“We started working on our version of the hyperloop in 2015, when we were still students,” says Juan Vicén Balaguer, one of the founders of the Spanish startup Zeleros. Zeleros has raised more than 10 million euros so far and hired 50 people to work on the vacuum train. “Work on the project has been going on for 5 years, and in the future it can really become a full-fledged alternative to other modes of transport.”

The idea of ​​a vacuum train is not new. Elon Max didn’t invent it. Moreover, an entrepreneur was not even born in those years, because the first mentions of such a concept appeared in the 19th century by Michel Vernet. Since then, science fiction writers have regularly used the idea in their writing. But, as has happened more than once, fantasy turns into reality.

Travel speeds of 1000 km / h can make Hyperloop the fastest and safest means of transportation.  Image source: Horizon
Travel speeds of 1000 km / h can make Hyperloop the fastest and safest means of transportation. Image source: Horizon

Pipes under hyperpressure

Zeleros technology differs in its approach to work on pipe construction.

“Every company is experimenting with different levels of hyperloop pressure,” notes Wiesen. “Some are already trying to reach cosmic pressure levels, that is, completely exclude air from the pipe.”

In this state, hyperloops will be able to provide trains with tremendous speed due to the absence of any resistance. However, in practice it turned out to be difficult to implement such a solution. It is extremely difficult and expensive to reduce the pressure in the pipe to such a state along the entire route. And not everything is going smoothly with security. If something happens to the train cabin, then the passengers will find themselves in a vacuum. Therefore, Zeleros follows a different tactic and wants to make the pressure more gentle.

“The pressure will be at the level that aircraft equipment usually experiences – i.e. about 100 millibars, ”explains Wiesen. As a result, Zeleros trains will be able to use safety systems recognized in civil aviation, such as oxygen masks. And it also reduces the cost of developing a hyperloop to sane numbers.

According to Wiesen, it is necessary to remove the air resistance in front of the fuselage, so Zeleros wants to install a compressor in the locomotive body. This is a compromise solution that allows you to find a balance between efficiency and cheapness.

A powerful compression system in the form of an aircraft engine will be installed on the front panel of the first car, sucking in all the air, driving it through the train body and out through an opening in the rear of the car. The energy created as a result of this action will move the “machine” forward. Such a device will be able to carry from 50 to 200 passengers at a speed of up to 1000 kilometers per hour. For comparison, a standard passenger plane flies at a speed of about 800 kilometers per hour.

Fighting air transport

Why do we need hyperloops? Can you invest in the development of existing high-speed trains? Professor Maria Luisa Martinez Muneta of the Polytechnic University of Madrid thinks it’s not that simple. She coordinates the HYPERNEX project, which helps startups like Zeleros work in collaboration with rail companies, educational institutions, government agencies and other bodies that can accelerate the development and implementation of hyperloops in Europe.

“We need hyperloops because they solve two problems at once that people face: the low speed of movement on Earth and the negative impact of classical transport on the environment,” says Martinez.

We have to remove the air resistance in the tunnel to keep the locomotive moving forward.  Therefore, we use a so-called linear motor (a compressor that drives the train by blowing air through the carriage).  Image source: Zeleros
We have to remove the air resistance in the tunnel to keep the locomotive moving forward. Therefore, we use a so-called linear motor (a compressor that drives the train by blowing air through the carriage). Image source: Zeleros

Due to the limited travel speed (about 300-350 kilometers per hour), even the fastest trains are not suitable for those who need to get from point A to point B urgently. Yes, for those who need to go urgently, there is air service, but airplanes do great harm to nature

According to Martinez, the hyperloop solves these problems, since the infrastructure for it can extend over distances of 400 to 1,500 kilometers. As a result, flights over such short distances will not be needed, and everyone will remain in the black: people will move faster from one settlement to another, and the Earth will partially recover from the yoke of harmful emissions generated by civil aviation.

Standardization and commercialization

The plans of Zeleros and other similar start-ups will take at least 10 years to implement. Wiesen believes that the first commercial route of the hyperloop will be launched by 2030, although cargo transportation via “vacuum” pipes will begin 3-5 years earlier.

One of the key problems that all startups of this kind, without exception, will face is interaction with regulators.

“The European Union was the first to create a standardization committee for hyperloops,” Wiesen said, referring to a division of the European Committee for Standardization formed in 2020.

According to representatives of the Zeleros startup, settling all issues with the responsible authorities is the most important step that will turn the concept into a full-fledged commercial project operating in Europe. These “machines” will be able to move at unprecedented speed. We need new safety standards, taking into account new characteristics when moving, etc. It is necessary to think in advance what to do if a cabin depressurization or other emergency situation occurs.

The technology itself has not yet been properly tested. Yes, races are being held more and more often, but they are not even close to what will happen in the vacuum tube of a hyperloop in 10 years. Wiesen mentions simulation tests that the startup has done several times, simulating certain aerodynamic conditions and changing electrodynamics on a computer. They also have models and prototypes for testing magnetism at high speeds in the laboratory, but this is still not enough.

Startup engineers can’t wait to get out of the lab and into the field. Zeleros is now planning to invest in the construction of a three-kilometer pipe “somewhere” in Spain to test the first hyperloop. They hope to demonstrate the technology’s capabilities on the basis of this route already in 2023. In parallel, they are negotiating with representatives of the Port of Valencia to find out how much freight through a vacuum tube will cost.

All this is still at the stage of checks, theoretical tests and endless negotiations, but the creation of real hyperloops is not far off. It is likely that in 2030 we will have the opportunity to ride from Berlin to Paris on the world’s fastest train.

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