Webinar Summary and Q&A

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Intro

On 3rd of February the EHW team hosted a webinar with four of our main partners: Zelros, Virgin Hyperloop, Nevomo, and AECOM. Below you can find a short summary of each talk, alongside answers to questions that were posed but not answered during the event due to time restrictions.

Zeleros

Minimisation of infrastructure complexity with in-vehicle technologies

Zeleros, having started their company from a student Hyperloop team, is developing a Hyperloop design concept that is vehicle-oriented to reduce infrastructure costs. Zeleros highlights the need for the variety of Hyperloop designs across the globe to unify in order to make its progress efficient on a large scale. The key variables that need to be standardised are, among others, pressure levels in tubes, propulsion and braking systems, the method of powering the Hyperloop, and communications. 

Zeleros is currently in the process of laboratory scales on a sub-system level and is looking to soon be involved in the construction of the European Hyperloop Development Center. Their plan foresees a real scale Hyperloop system in the next decade, the design of which is in already ongoing.

Nevomo

Developing Hyperloop using existing infrastructure

Nevomo focuses on creating a bridge between conventional railways and Hyperloop through higher efficiency and interoperability. Their main concept is following the words: “It is crucial to unlock the full economic value of the land beneath the railway lines.”. This means utilising existing railway infrastructure to make the transition to Hyperloop staged and hence smoother. This combination of the existing railway tracks, electromagnetic propulsion and levitation could transport passengers at the speed of 550 km/h.

According to Nevomo, similarly to the automotive industry shifting towards electrification and autonomous vehicles, railways should also be modernized. Magrail systems could be the first step towards the implementation of the Hyperloop in Europe and across the world.

Virgin Hyperloop

Testing the technology and visualising a future Hyperloop pod

Virgin Hyperloop has recently made breakthroughs in Hyperloop passenger transportation by having the first manned Hyperloop pod zoom through a tube. This was one of over 500 hyperloop tests at their DevLoop, a testing site which is built specifically for the purpose of validating their designs. Building the test tube for their Hyperloop tests didn’t happen without difficulties: Virgin Hyperloop encountered a problem welding the steel tube sections together; they are currently looking into using different composite materials and other materials to seal the vacuum.

Virgin Hyperloop’s two-seater prototype vehicle demonstrated many Hyperloop safety-critical protocols to confirm the safety of hyperloop and its passengers. Passenger safety is highlighted by the company as a critical selling point of this mode of transport. This is why their hyperloop pod will be designed to make passengers feel comfortable and safe through a familiar interior design. The rendering of a prototype of their pod has a capacity of 28 passengers.

Virgin Hyperloop emphasized the importance of cooperation among various Hyperloop companies as a way to make Hyperloop technology a reality.

AECOM

Infrastructure developments and feasibility studies 

Feasibility studies have been conducted by AECOM around the world for a practical approach to Hyperloop. They believe that infrastructure creates opportunity; no matter what the challenge, with the right infrastructure we can achieve what we want to. This is applicable to Hyperloop as introducing a whole new mode of transport can prove challenging, however with the right tools Hyprloop has the potential to revolutionize the transportation world.

Looking more closely at AECOM’s research, one study was conducted with Transport Canada, where a holistic assessment of the viability and readiness of the hyperloop technology. The study drew upon large information of public sources, and performed hazard and risk assessments while closely working with multiple Hyperloop technology developers and industry experts.

Q&A Nevomo

Are Nevomo’s design objectives and vision focused on LIM or LSM?  Or both? Why?

For our main product – magnetic rail called magrail, we focus on LSM. Yet, we are analysing different market options and for some applications, LIM seems also an interesting option.

What’s the support of public railways for your project? Is it easy to collaborate?

The railway sector is at its crossroads. Aggressive competition from air and road transport resulted in decreasing modal share of railways. Climate issues forced decision-makers to develop pro-rail policies and ambitious goals for the sector.  Yet, XIX-century principles (based on steel rails and steel wheel) has only been constantly optimised for around 150 years, and further increases of efficiency are limited. For that reason, it is a challenge for railways to fulfil social expectations. Leading railway companies, including state-owned ones, have developed new strategies, where digitalisation and innovation play a crucial role. We observe rising interest from the side of infrastructure managers (IMs) and railway undertakings (RUs) on new technologies that can upgrade an existing system.

Is Nevomo’s implementation strategy tailored to Polish railways, or is it adaptable to European transportation systems?

Our magrail solution is generic technology, which can be deployed at all kinds of railway tracks. The solution is 100% global.

According to your vision, what will be the energy source to power the hyperloop systems?

From a technological standpoint, we can distinguish external supply (electricity) or internal (on-board) sources like batteries or hydrogen cells. We assume that magrail technology will be easily adaptable for each of these sources, while decisions on which source should be deployed will be always based on the particular case study. Generally, for high-speed and long-distance (intercity) connections, we believe that electricity will remain the optimal solution. We hope that it will be possible to use as much green electricity as possible, yet the source of electricity is out of the scope of the technology supplier.

How do you think that an event like the EHW can help the standardisation process of Hyperloop?

Standardisation is key issue for hyperloop. If the technology doesn`t want to end up like maglevs, with just a few separated point-to-point connections, particular suppliers of technology must know broad frames in which they must fit with their solutions so that system as a whole remains compatible. Events like EHW are a great opportunity for young engineers and scientists to challenge new ideas, learn from leading industry experts, and ultimately become part of a broad hyperloop industry family.

 

Q&A Virgin Hyperloop

How many passengers can one pod accommodate and why has Virgin Hyperloop selected this number? Why is this length of a pod selected and not a longer one?

Pods will come in multiple configurations, comfortably seating 16-28 passengers and carrying light luggage. Despite the fact that each vehicle carries only about 28 passengers, the Virgin Hyperloop system is able to transport thousands of passengers per hour, on-demand and directly to their destination. This high throughput is achieved by convoying, where vehicles are able to travel behind one another in the tube within milliseconds, akin to autonomous vehicles on a dedicated lane of a highway. Unlike train cars, the pods are not physically connected, which allows for any individual pod to break away at its destination and “switch,”  like a car taking an off ramp. Beyond simply providing a better passenger experience, this allows the system to be demand-responsive, having more frequent departures (less wait time) and higher utilization per pod to minimize operational costs.

Further, small pods allow for tighter turning radiuses and infrastructure flexibility, allowing the hyperloop system to fit within a smaller right of way.

There is a delicate balance between cost minimization and optimizing passenger service, and our algorithms have shown a sweet spot at 28.

How does air circulation within a hyperloop pod work efficiently, with special emphasis on air filtration during a pandemic, given that unlike airplanes, the hyperloop does not have the benefit of recirculating air every 2-5 minutes?

Because of the enclosed environment, our system can scrub CO2 and filter airborne contaminants. Onboard safety systems continuously monitor the air quality to ensure our passengers have a continuous supply of clean air – very similar to the process on an airplane.

We have the opportunity to learn from the pandemic and apply these learnings in a post-COVID world to our vehicles. Our team is looking into everything from more extensive air filtration systems to antimicrobials on transportation equipment. Additionally, the system is autonomous and schedules pods on demand. In a similar crisis, we could immediately space out passengers on our system. As a new mode, we can really start from scratch and figure out the best way forward.

Has Virgin Hyperloop performed any evacuated tube tests yet?

Yes. Our 500+ test runs, including our recent passenger testing, were conducted in our near-vacuum environment of about 100 Pascals.

Given that the hyperloop cannot draw in air from its external environment unlike airplanes, is there a contingency system that is being designed that will meet the oxygen requirements of the passengers in the event that the pod were to get stuck and the reserve supplies were depleted?

Pods will be built using similar engineering approaches that airplanes use to prevent the loss of cabin pressure. Unlike airplanes, we have the advantage that our “sky” is a few feet from the ground. We can re-pressurize our tube faster than an airplane can descend – and much faster than the time it would take for pressure to drop to critical levels in the pod – so there will be no oxygen masks necessary. Additional compressed air on-board each pod will further stabilize the passenger environment while the tube pressure normalizes. If necessary, there will be frequent emergency exits where passengers can evacuate from the system.

What opportunities are now open that the US Department of Transportation has recognised Virgin Hyperloop as a formal transport mode?

In July 2020, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary and the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council unveiled the guidance document on a clear regulatory framework for hyperloop in the United States. This historic announcement not only provides a pathway for hyperloop regulation and deployment in the US but also establishes hyperloop’s eligibility for federal funding for projects. This sets the stage for cities, states, regional transportation and planning authorities, and the general public to turn to hyperloop as a means to realize their mobility and connectivity goals.

There is a growing consensus that infrastructure is key to recovery, creating jobs, and preparing for this century’s climate crisis. We’re excited to continue working with local, state, and federal governments to certify hyperloop by 2025 and have commercial projects by 2030.

How do you think that an event like the EHW can help the standardisation process of Hyperloop?

European Hyperloop Week is another example of the companies and universities coming together to advance the regulatory and standardization fronts for hyperloop technology. This builds off of significant progress around the world, particularly in Europe. The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DGMOVE) has held numerous workshops over the past 2 years with hyperloop companies in conjunction with regulatory authorities and standards bodies – leading to the establishment of a baseline for the functional blocks of a hyperloop system and safety requirements. The European Commission is now carrying out a 9-month study to develop a safety regulatory approach for Europe, the results of which will be used by the Commission to develop the regulatory policy for hyperloop technologies. Active discussions are also underway with several European regulatory authorities.

 

Q&A AECOM

Why was the main feasibility study carried out in Canada out of the many countries where you had “Hyperloop projects”?

Canada was the most recent feasibility study, and we had the opportunity to make it the most comprehensive taking into account all aspects.

AECOM is the only company in this webinar that is not completely and exclusively focused on hyperloop development. What does it represent for you and what additional value do hyperloop infrastructure projects have that other projects do not?

Hyperloop represents for us a sustainable alternative to connect people and goods in real life at a speed compared with airplanes. Therefore it contributes to our target to build sustainable infrastructure for generations to come.

How do you think that an event like the EHW can help the standardisation process of Hyperloop?

Standardization starts with bringing great minds together that are able to understand each other’s challenges and opportunities and are willing to put their own bias aside for the higher goal. Giving them the same purpose and goal accelerates this process.