Home Science The future of transport is being designed in Valencia

The future of transport is being designed in Valencia

The Valencian company Zeleros has one of the most advanced solutions for the high-speed transport system presented by Elon Musk and the European Union is interested

We live in a world that is getting smaller every day thanks to advances in transportation over the last century. Getting from Europe to New York used to require a seven-day journey by boat, but today we can arrive by plane in seven hours.

A direct flight from Madrid to Berlin takes us to the German capital in three hours. But climate change has highlighted the problem of emissions from commercial aviation, which alone accounts for 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The solution is not easy. Despite Europe’s extensive high-speed rail network, traveling by train from Madrid to Berlin requires four transfers and a total of 24 hours.

What if we had a train that was as fast as an airplane, completely electric and therefore zero CO2 emissions? That is the promise of Hyperloop.

What is Hyerloop?

The Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation concept proposed in 2012 by Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX. It is a ground transportation system in which capsules or “pods” travel through low-pressure tubes at extremely high speeds. The main goal of Hyperloop is to significantly reduce travel times between cities.

European Hyperloop

In the original design, the capsules in the Hyperloop would be powered by electric motors and moved on air cushions, which would minimize friction and enable very high theoretical speeds of even over 1000 km/h. This transport system has the potential to revolutionize long-distance transport, significantly reducing travel times and reducing traffic congestion and environmental impact.

But building this transport system represents an enormous challenge from an engineering and physical point of view. By removing air from the tube through which the capsules circulate, the friction with the air is significantly reduced, which is the main limit in current high-speed trains. However, this means that this low pressure in the tube (10% of normal atmospheric pressure) must be maintained using vacuum pumps.

One of the biggest problems to solve is keeping the capsule separate from the tube. Musk’s original project called for the capsule to float in the tube and be suspended from an air cushion, similar to table hockey. However, this solution presents some problems, but a group of Valencian engineers have a possible solution.

The Zeleros solution

Zeleros is the Spanish company founded at the Polytechnic University of Valencia that aims to lead the development of hyperloops in Europe. The founding group, consisting of engineers David Pistoni, Juan Vicent and Daniel Orient, won two awards in the international competition to present ideas for the Hyperloop, organized by Elon Musk in the USA in 2015. After this success, the founders of the university signed team They decided to create Zeleros.

Zeleros’ bet is to magnetically levitate the capsule inside the tube at low pressure. This system has already been used in some test trains in Japan, Germany, China, South Korea and the USA. The train has no contact with the track, which eliminates wheel friction and allows speeds of 600 km/h to be reached in tests. To create the necessary strong magnetic field, electromagnets are used on the tracks and even superconducting magnets in the train.

At Zeleros they have managed to develop a levitation system that combines electromagnets and static neodymium magnets. Unlike other prototypes, the magnets are located in the upper part of the capsule, which “floats” from the magnetic field. A complex computer system is responsible for modulating the magnetic fields at all times so that an exact distance of just 20 millimeters from the low-pressure pipe is maintained.

As soon as the capsule hangs in the tube, the problem arises of getting it moving. Other Hyperloop prototypes use the same system as magnetic levitation trains: a linear motor. We can think of the device as an “uncoiled” electric motor, where instead of turning the rotor, the electromagnets drive a charge in a straight line. Without friction, this system allows large accelerations and speeds, but requires the placement of electromagnets along the entire route, which would excessively increase costs.

The Zeleros prototype uses the linear motor at the beginning of the journey to accelerate the capsule. From a cruising speed of up to 1000 km/h, the drive is provided by a turbine on the back of the capsule, which uses energy from rechargeable batteries, also inside the capsule. This reduces the installation of magnets in the tube to a minimum, leaving only the magnets necessary for levitation, as well as the system’s power consumption.

A European project

Zeleros received an initial investment from EIT InnoEnergy, a project supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a European Union body committed to the Green Deal and Europe’s decarbonization goals. EIT’s intervention was crucial in obtaining additional financing from investors such as Acciona, Redeia, Capgemini Engineering or the train manufacturer CAF and others.

Another company involved in the project is the Port Authority Valenciaport Foundation, where a prototype of a future zero-emission container transport system has been installed in the port, taking advantage of the Zeleros magnetic levitation system developed for the Hyperloop.

For Angela Alimi, spokesperson for the EIT, the European institute brings great advantages for the development of projects like that of the Valencian company. “We have up to 2,500 partners. We enter an environment like Valencia, look at the local players and say: Okay, let’s look at the local university, let’s look at the industry, let’s look at the partners, let’s look at the startups.” How can Do you support each other? And we will bring the funding and expertise from our EIT Climate-KIC headquarters in Eindhoven (the leading European climate innovation initiative). According to Alimi, “we are a kind of coordinator and we do this on the ground, on the ground.” But behind it is a global one Movement that accompanies startups in their growth.

One of the problems Europe faces is the drain of talent and the lack of people with the necessary skills to take part in these advanced technology projects. In this context, the EIT supports the training and retraining of specialists. “We work with industry to develop curricula, work with labor organizations to deliver the curriculum, and then work with universities to introduce and implement the new curriculum,” explains Alimi. “We also see that demand is high. Since launch, we have identified 630,000 students who will receive training,” he adds.

The Hyperloop may seem like an overly ambitious or unrealistic project, but technical solutions such as those proposed by Zeleros can result in costs very close to those of current high-speed routes. According to company officials, the system would be an addition that would compete very favorably with air transport in terms of cost, speed and comfort.

Zeleros’ dream is to connect the world with a network of hyperloop connections to enable international and even intercontinental travel. A dream that may be closer than we think.

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