Hyperloop

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Hyperloop concept
Hyperloop Concept [1]

Contents

Introduction - What is Hyperloop?

Hyperloop is a theoretical high-speed mass-transportation system that may one day replace or disrupt competing transportation industries. A Hyperloop can be described as a pod or capsule that travels inside a network of vacuum-sealed tubes, to transport passengers or goods. These tubes are designed to have low air pressure, allowing pods to travel at substantial speeds free from friction and air resistance. The top speed of a Hyperloop is said to reach a theoretical maximum speed of 1223 km/h [1].

The future goal of Hyperloop is to provide an efficient transportation system that will open opportunities for travel between two destinations. Hyperloop aims to be the fastest form of transportation and strives to be the new mode of transportation with the following characteristics; immunity to weather, collision-free, sustainability, and relatively cheap.

Who Proposed Hyperloop?

The term “Hyperloop” was first coined by Elon Musk in 2012. Musk’s conceptual design of the Hyperloop was inspired by George Wenger, a British Mechanical Engineer who invented and designed the original Hyperloop concept in 1812. George Wenger’s idea included the use of tubes to transport goods and was later revised in 1827 by George Medhurst and by Alfred Ely Beach in 1869 [2].

In August 2013, Musk published and released his full conceptual design of a modern Hyperloop, in the form of a white paper called “Hyperloop Alpha”. The Hyperloop concept has since then been “open-sourced” by Musk, and organizations have been encouraged to adopt and advance the Hyperloop technology.

Main Present Day Hyperloop Contributors

Virgin Hyperloop

Virgin Hyperloop (formerly Hyperloop Technologies, Hyperloop One, and Virgin Hyperloop One) is one of the leading companies in Hyperloop technologies and advancements. Based in the United States, Virgin Hyperloop works to commercialize and bring the Hyperloop technology to the public. The company was established on June 1, 2014 [3]. Virgin Hyperloop’s pods are propelled using magnetic levitation [4].

Notable Virgin Hyperloop Milestones & Achievements

Virgin Hyperloop released its first Hyperloop design on November 10, 2016, in collaboration with the Bjarke Ingels Group [5].

On May 12, 2017, Virgin Hyperloop tested its first full-scale Hyperloop system using a levitating chassis without passengers [6].

On July 29th, 2017, Virgin Hyperloop successfully tested its experimental pod one (XP-1) for the first time [7].

On November 8, 2020, Virgin Hyperloop conducted the first Hyperloop passenger test with its experimental pod two (XP-2) (Also known as the Pegasus Pod) [4]. The XP-2 is designed to carry four passengers, with an air pressure within the tube of 100 pascals. The pod features various safety technologies such as a pod safety controller, rapid tube re-pressurization, automated fire suppression, air scrubbing, and filtering, emergency egress, and an airlock system [8].

As a pioneer of Hyperloop development, they have achieved history-breaking news in the transportation industry with their contributions to Hyperloop. Currently, the company is still working towards the development of their Pegasus Pod and are in talks with various governments to sign agreements for the development of more Hyperloop tracks. Virgin Hyperloop aims to have a commercial pod design by January 2021 [9].

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (also known as HyperloopTT), is an American research company revolving around the development of a functional Hyperloop. Founded in 2013, HyperloopTT is an early adopter to the Hyperloop project. HyperloopTT constructs its pods with Vibranium, a form of reinforced carbon fiber, said to be 8 to 10 times stronger than its alternatives [10]. Their pods leverage passive magnetic levitation, a technology known as Inductrack, exclusively licensed from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Inductrack works similar to traditional magnetic levitation, except it creates levitation through forwarding momentum of magnets over an unpowered track, making it significantly faster [11].

Notable Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Milestones & Achievements

HyperloopTT created the first full-scale Hyperloop test track in Toulouse, France running 320 meters in length, in October of 2018 [12].

HyperloopTT revealed its first full-scale Hyperloop pod, the Quintero One in 2018 [12].

In 2016, HyperloopTT revealed an augmented window concept that allows a pod’s passengers to “view” outside of windows in a normally enclosed-tube environment [13]. This technology will allow pods to emulate a more traditional train experience and help passengers feel more at ease.

TUM Hyperloop

TUM Hyperloop (formerly WARR Hyperloop) was founded by students at the Technical University of Munich, in 2015 [14]. TUM Hyperloop is an active participant in SpaceX’s Hyperloop Competitions. As of 2021, TUM Hyperloop has developed 4 different pods, all of which have participated in a SpaceX Hyperloop competition, setting a new world record for Hyperloop speeds each iteration. TUM Hyperloop is the current Hyperloop speed record holder with a top speed of 482 km/h [15]. TUM Hyperloop pods are designed with titanium, along with reinforced carbon fiber chassis, and use distributed propulsion [15].

Notable TUM Hyperloop Milestones & Achievements

On January 29, 2017 TUM Hyperloop reached a speed of 94 km/h [15].

On August 27, 2018, TUM Hyperloop reached a speed of 324 km/h [15].

On July 22, 2018, TUM Hyperloop reached a speed of 467 km/h [15].

On July 21, 2019, TUM Hyperloop set the world record Hyperloop speed at 482 km/h [15].

List of all Hyperloop Contributors

Hyperloop table

Hyperloop Design Concept

Much like a high-speed rail system, the Hyperloop resembles a train but is encased inside a vacuum-sealed tube. Based on Musk’s design of the Hyperloop, a Hyperloop system can be built both above and underground. A Hyperloop is said to reach a theoretical maximum velocity of 1223 km/h while maintaining a quiet and safe environment for its passengers. As of 2021, Hyperloop is only a conceptual design and in its early development phases, but it is estimated to be operational and serviceable by 2029 [17].

Hyperloop Technological Challenges

Friction Formula
Fig 1. Friction Formula [18]

Friction

What is Friction?
Friction is the force that opposes the motion, reducing energy and thereby reducing the velocity of a sliding object on top of another surface [18]. The level of friction is dependent on the two types of surfaces rubbing against one another. The rougher the surfaces, the more friction is produced. Frictional impedances from having wheels or physically touching components can affect the speed of the Hyperloop and cause instability. The formula for friction force can be found in Fig 1.

How to overcome Frictional Impedance
Frictional force can be addressed by lifting the pods into the air and propelling them through the tubes. Two currently known ways to do this are through the use of air bearings or magnetic levitation [1]. By lifting the pods up from the tracks of the tubes will eliminate any potential frictional forces, since the pod will not be rubbing against any surfaces when traveling.

Drag Formula
Fig 2. Drag Formula [19]

Aerodynamic Drag

What is Aerodynamic Drag?
Aerodynamic drag, sometimes called air resistance, is the force opposing the relative motion of an object [19]. Aerodynamic drag depends on velocity. When velocity increases, air resistance increases. Due to the potential speeds of Hyperloop, aerodynamic drag is inevitable. Aerodynamic drag is an obstacle preventing Hyperloops from accelerating to higher velocities. The drag formula can be found in Fig 2.

How to overcome Aerodynamic Drag
To overcome aerodynamic drag, the design of a Hyperloop must consider the pod’s shape and size. The closer the flow of air is attached to the body of the pod the more favorable the aerodynamic drag is. Streamlining the design of the pod will result in less flow separation, and reduce turbulence [20]. Additionally, the design of low-pressure vacuum-sealed tubes helps to reduce air and therefore reduces the potential for air resistance.

Kantrowitz Formula
Fig 3. Kantrowitz Formula [21]

Kantrowitz Limit

What is the Kantrowitz Limit?
The Kantrowitz limit refers to the limit of supersonic or near-supersonic velocities before choked flow occurs. Choked flow causes increased air resistance, something problematic for the design of a high-speed transportation system like Hyperloop. From another perspective, the Kantrowitz limit can be seen as the minimum tube to pod area ratio before choked flow occurs [1]. Choked flow refers to a situation where the flow of air is blocked from flowing through its natural direction and instead trapped in front of an object moving at a high velocity. To illustrate the idea, when the walls of a Hyperloop tube are too close to the pod, air will be forced to be pushed out the entire column, and behave like a syringe [1]. When choked flow occurs, the air is no longer flowing and instead increases the air pressure a Hyperloop pod must push through, throttling the speed. The Kantrowitz limit formula for a pod traveling through a tube can be found in Fig 3.

How to overcome the Kantrowitz Limit
The first way to overcome the Kantrowitz limit is to design the Hyperloop to travel at a slower speed, however, this contradicts the Hyperloop’s ability to travel at very high velocities. Alternatively, increasing the diameter of the tubes would allow a pod to travel safely through without worrying about the Kantrowitz limit. Increasing the tube size to reduce air blockage is not ideal since it would increase costs and make the Hyperloop system less feasible. Another solution is for Hyperloop to travel at velocities high enough to balance the negatives of added air resistance. Going at high speeds may help to bypass the Kantrowitz limit, but has its limitations. When traveling at high velocities, it becomes exceedingly difficult to adjust the course of a pod due to inertia, making turns in the Hyperloop nearly impossible.

A more feasible approach to overcoming the Kantrowitz limit is to attach an electric compressor fan in the front of a pod [1]. The idea was proposed by Musk in his Hyperloop Alpha paper. The mounted fan would act as a way to allow air to freely move and bypass the pod, relieving the high air pressure from the front. Another added benefit of an electric compressor fan is the transfer of air through the pod from the front to the rear, cushioning the pod itself, reducing friction [1].

Hyperloop Components & Technology

Hyperloop diagram
Fig 4. Hyperloop diagram [1]

Pod (Capsule)

A Hyperloop pod or capsule is the transportation device that carries potential passengers or goods that travels along a tube’s stators or is propelled forward by magnets. Because Hyperloop moves at high velocities in a low-pressurized tube, pods are designed to be completely sealed and include various entertainment systems in the interior. The pods follow a streamlined design to address aerodynamic drag and use either air bearings or maglev to suspend themselves off the tracks of the tubes to reduce friction. Onboard the pod is an electric compressor fan that helps to reduce choked flow and supplies the air to air bearings, to support the weight of the pod. Typically, a pod can weigh up to 6,000 lbs (2,700 kg) [1]. Another component is the onboard battery that provides the pod with the energy to accelerate. The battery powers the compression motor, coolant, and the pod itself.

Tubes

Hyperloop tubes are designed to be low in air pressure, ideally completely sealed from air. These tubes act as the railway or road for a Hyperloop pod to travel through. Tubes are generally made of steel or carbon fiber, reinforced with stringers for the inner diameter. A tube wall thickness will vary and be between 0.8 to 0.9 in. (20 to 23mm) [1]. Hyperloop tubes must be sturdy and resistant to weather conditions if built above ground. Attached to each tube, spaced evenly apart is a pylon to prop up tubes to make up the Hyperloop system. Additionally, the pylons act as a mitigation tool to natural disasters, absorbing changes in thermal temperatures and adjusting to the potential movement of the tubes. Tubes are also designed to add emergency exits and pressurization ports in key locations. Furthermore, tubes are assembled with stators or magnets at the bottom of each tube that directs and guide the direction in which a pod may travel. Solar panels can also be attached to the top of tubes to generate power for batteries onboard a pod.

Hyperloop Suspension Technology

A Hyperloop system depends on the suspension methods to lift the pod off a track and help propel the pod forward. Suspension technology used in Hyperloop addresses aerodynamic drag and frictional impedances.

 Magnetic Levitation & Propulsion
Fig 5. Magnetic Levitation & Propulsion [22]

Air Bearings
Air bearings are a method of suspension that uses air to cushion and lift a pod. Air bearing suspension is a cheaper alternative to magnetic levitation and offers stability and low aerodynamic drag. The air-bearing suspension method exploits the atmosphere Hyperloop pods are designed in, redirecting potential choked air from the high-velocity acceleration of a pod to its air bearings [1]. The air supports the weight of the pod and levitates the pod away from the tube to reduce friction, allowing it to glide along stators.

Magnetic Levitation
Magnetic levitation or Maglev is a technology borrowed from high-speed rail systems, such as the Tokaido Shinkansen. Maglev uses two sets of magnets, one to repel and push a pod up off the tracks from the tube and another to propel it forward. Maglev takes advantage of the lack of friction and allows for a Hyperloop pod to accelerate at much faster velocities. See Fig 5. for a simple explanation of magnetic levitation and propulsion.

History of Rail Transport

Early History (Early-Mid 1800s)


The 1811 Cornish Engine
The 1811 Cornish Engine[23]

The Invention of the Steam Engine

While today we associate the steam engine with mainly just railroad transport, the technology was in fact first used for another purpose altogether. Before its rapid development in transportation, the first steam engines (such as the 1811 Cornish Engine) were used to pump water[24] out of England’s iron, coal, and tin mines. In general, what separates transportation by rail, from the other methods of truck and air, are trains’ far higher efficiency with regards to weight. A heavy train-car being far better suited to transport 100 tons of steel than something like a horse drawn carriage. In fact, it's likely that it was this proximity to the heavy mining industries that led to the realization of the technology’s potential in transportation. The immediately-following need to transport such heavy goods as coal and iron to refineries, demanding a more cost-effective solution.

Rail: The Key to Northern Victory in the U.S. Civil War

At the outbreak of the US Civil War in 1861, the Southern confederate states had a far less developed railway infrastructure as compared to the North. Their industry, based primarily on the production of soft goods like cotton, textiles and tobacco, had little need for heavy transport, and so never developed to the extent it did in the North. Furthermore, their primarily agricultural-based industry meant there were few significant dense population centres worth developing transportation connections for. For this reason, when war broke out, the great refineries of the midwestern Steel Belt all-but guaranteed a Northern victory.

Mid History (Late 1800s - Mid 1900s)


Trains and U.S. Manifest Destiny

Over the next half-century, rail became culturally synonymous with victory and progress within the United States; a staple of the portrayal of the Wild West and the ‘conquering of the frontier’ (of course, “a disaster for Native Americans”[25]). The nation’s railways “gave the United States the single largest market in the world, which provided the basis for the rapid expansion of American industry and agriculture to the point where the U.S. by the 1890s had the most powerful economy on the planet.”[26]

A Complete Map of India’s Railway Lines
A Complete Map of India’s Railway Lines, 2019[27]

India’s Rail Network

When the British Empire first established and expanded its colonial government in India, among the first things it did was build an interconnected system of trains between the various provinces for export. Prior to this time, the subcontinent was in no way politically unified. A Sikh from India’s Punjab Northwest, a Hindu from the Vijay South, and a Muslim from The Bengal East, would not see oneanother as any sort of kin.

This all changed with the introduction of the railroad, however. With the death of distance that rail brought, along with the unifying force of a common enemy in Britain, rail became an icon of the Indian national movement[28], and connected the disparate regions in both culture and in trade. A fact that has only grown since the country’s independence, as the 4th largest rail network in the world, with over 7300 stations[29], involved in the export of up to 95% of the country's trade goods.

Trains & Reaching the African Interior

A similar outcome occurred in Africa, although with less emphasis on culture, and more on its economic and infrastructure impact. Because of its natural geography—both the negatives in 0.1% forest cover, lack of natural harbours, and only a single navigable river (the Nile)[30], and positives in an unbounded amount of heavy natural resources—rail is undoubtedly the most efficient form of transportation infrastructure the continent could ask for. And, despite the reasons for its initial construction, rail has connected the continent’s isolated interior to the world, and is, according to the African development bank, a crucial tool in “increas[ing] African inter-regional trade”[31] and a “natural market”[31] for local economies that rely on bulk minerals and commodities.

Modern History (Mid 1900s - Present)


Trains and the Creation of the European Union

The precursor organization to the European Union—the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)—was established less than half a decade after the end of the second World War. By tying together what was for many, the most important market of each country’s economies, the ECSC hoped to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”[32]. The ECSC accomplished this goal, incentivising cooperation between nations, through the abolition of “railway tariffs, [which] promoted trade between members: steel trade increased tenfold”[33]. This great project, the liberalization of Europe’s railway transport, not only provided an economically viable alternative to Oceanic trade—the primary method of commerce for 1000s of years prior—but, more importantly, finally tied the continent in peace. The increased cross-border trade, and the development of subsequent commercial interdependencies between nations being the final key to overcoming hundreds of years of cultural borders and hostility.

The European Coal and Steel Community Members
The European Coal and Steel Community Members[34]

The Invention of High-Speed Rail

With the start of the 1960s, the economic miracle that was post-war Japan sought to invest in the nation's transportation infrastructure. With an aging conventional rail system and the country's newly-proven excellence in high-tech manufacturing and development, a proposal was made to create the world's first high speed rail system: Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train.

Expanded upon in subsequent years, the network of high-speed trains catapulted Japan’s infrastructure past those of any other country, providing incredible public transportation speeds, equal to that of airplanes at barely a fraction of the cost. But, with just the first line having a cost the equivalent of USD$ 3.6 billion[35] today—more than double its original budget—the state-owned Japanese National Railways (JNR), its original developers forced to resign a year before completion, was sent further and further into debt. When the company was formally disbanded, in October of 1998, many years after the Shinkansen’s complete privatization, JNR’s debt stood at “$491 billion in 2021 dollars”[36].

Despite this, the Shinkansen train was an instant success. The primary downsides of the technology, such as its use of magnetic levitation being unsuited for the transport of heavy goods, were not a problem. What the country lacked in natural resources, it made up for with enormous population density. For Japan, high-speed rail was the perfect storm. The Japanese Shinkansen high-speed rail system, which has been running and improving their operations since 1964, has never had a passenger fatality (outside of accidental or deliberate falls onto the rails), and it has continued to be a crucial part of the nations culture and economy.

The Future (Present - ∞)


Brain Drain

The phenomenon of brain drain—”the departure of educated or professional people from one country, economic sector, or field for another usually for better pay or living conditions”[37]—has long been a cause for concern for comparatively low and middle-income nations, and has often served as a key barrier to further integration between neighbor states.

When a nation such as Poland, for instance, sees its population decline year after year, in large part due to a quintupling in emigration[38] out of the country since entering the EU in 2004, the country's own economic growth is put at risk. It’s somewhat of a negative reinforcement loop, where the more of the highly-educated population that leaves, the more the economy struggles to grow, and the more incentive the next generation has to emigrate.

The Death of Distance

The introduction of new rapid transit technologies such as Hyperloop, however, could be a game changer. Even when moving comes with the prospect of a two or three-fold increase in income, there are many factors tying potential emigres to their home country. So, when current hyperloop speeds make potential travel from Krakow (Poland) to Munich (Germany) a less than an hour journey, the dynamic shifts. The ability to work a high-paying job in a country like Germany yet still live with your family and community could be the key that safeguards the future economies of many such countries.

Possible Implications

Hyperloops are currently a concept rather than reality due to limitations in multiple areas.

Technological hurdles

There are currently three main issues engineers are working on to make hyperloops a reality.

 G-force During Motion
G-force During Motion[39]

The Effects of G-force

As hyperloop is a mode of transportation that would be capable of travelling more than 1200 km/hr, it is important to note the impact of G force on the human body[1]. It is important to note that g-force is a measure of acceleration and travelling at a fixed velocity does not increase g-force[40]. However, changes in velocity (acceleration, deceleration and turns) can cause significant uncomfort, which is magnified at higher speeds[41]. Currently, airplane travel is the fastest mode of commercial transportation, subjecting the human body to a high of around 1.4g during take off, an addition of 0.4g from the baseline of 1g from gravity[41]. This amount of force may already be uncomfortable for some passengers. With hyperloop’s extreme speeds combined with turns necessary to navigate city infrastructure, passengers can experience up to 2.4g if no controlling measures are taken. This would not be feasible as a commercial mode of transportation where passengers are untrained and have different levels of health and fitness. Engineers and companies must therefore find the important balance of maintaining promised travel times with the comfort passengers will demand.

 Implosion of an Aluminum Can
Implosion of an Aluminum Can[42]

Maintaining a Vacuum

Present day hyperloop design concepts involve transport pods travelling within a low pressure vacuum sealed tube. Atmospheric pressure within the pod is “normal,” maintained to be around 101.3kPa for human comfort[43]. But the air pressure outside the pods and inside the tube is set to be 100 Pa, which is 1/10 of that within the pods and outside the tube[1]. Because of the difference in atmospheric pressure, air travelling between these separated conditions can lead to a catastrophic implosion. Damage to the tube would cause air to flow rapidly into the vacuum, increasing air pressure outside the pods. As this air pressure builds up, it would push against the walls of the pod with around 10,000 kg of force, causing the pod to implode almost immediately[44]. This pressure will also be capable of pushing the pods away at fast speeds both forward and backward, leading to collision between pods.

To mitigate this problem, there is a need for advanced pressure sensors, highly durable structural materials and highly trained engineers ready for repairs at any time. As hyperloops are designed for long distance travel, timely access to perform repairs in the event of a shutdown is also an issue.

Thermal Expansion and Contraction

All matter, including any material used to construct the hyperloop will be vulnerable to thermal expansion and contraction[45]. When there is a change in temperature, the volume of atoms will change and may crack, bend or experience some sort of damage if there is no room to expand or contract. Currently, roads, bridges and other structures are constructed with gaps that allow for thermal expansion. However, this will not be possible if the hyperloop tube must be air tight.

Solutions for thermal expansion in the construction of hyperloops may include usage of materials with lower coefficients of thermal expansion and the addition of low speed transition tracks.
 Computed Tomography at Airport Security
Computed Tomography at Airport Security[46]

At this time, hyperloop projects have not yet reached a large enough size for thermal expansion to be problematic.

Security Implications

The main attraction of hyperloop travel is its convenience, but it is also highly vulnerable to attacks due to the demanding and delicate nature of the system. Development of the hyperloop concept has not reached the security stage, but some assumptions can be made on how security clearance will be conducted. Computed tomography scans and metal detectors used by airport authorities along with biometric data and a trusted travellers program, supported by data analytics and real-time logistics management is a possibility[47].

Social Implications

Though hyperloop technology will likely be a valuable addition to travel and transportation, there will be a transitional period where some negative effects may impact surrounding regions.

Real Estate

Initial pilot projects of the hyperloop will likely only connect large urban cities, involving acquisition of land needed to construct stations and track. The increased infrastructure in those cities added to an investment into real estate from land acquisition may lead to an increase in property price before wide hyperloop coverage[48]. This can lead to less access to affordable housing for the majority of residents in surrounding areas.

Job Security

Implementation of hyperloop transportation will be an added option for short-haul long distance travel and goods transport. This distribution in consumer purchases may lead to decreased demand for short distance air and train travel. This change in demand could be reflected in related industries with a loss of job opportunities in air, trucking, railroad for both commercial and industrial applications[48]. Hyperloop systems will also be largely automated, decreasing the need for companies to hire traditional travel related service staff. Affected sectors will include engineering, flight operations, trucking, vehicle rentals, hospitality and more.

Social Inequality

As with all technological advancements, initial cost to purchase may limit its early adopters to those that are financially secure. Hyperloop’s limited destinations may become a usage barrier for those that cannot afford residence in central areas, considering that they must still commute to the hyperloop station. It is also important to note that those that are unfamiliar with emerging technologies, such as the aging population or those coming from less developed countries may not be comfortable using this new mode of transportation.

Law and Taxation

As a new form of transportation, hyperloop implementation and construction will require government acknowledgement and support. This is especially important for larger international projects. Currently, there are two official legislations that include the mention of hyperloops: the Move Forward Act of the United States of America and the European Committee for Standardization by the European Union[49][50].

Funding for hyperloop projects will also require much more discussion, as it will likely involve government investment reflected by taxation.

Cost Considerations

Depending on the specific design adopted by local governments and companies, there will be large variations in cost. This is due to differences in land acquisition, tunnel construction and role of topography. It is difficult to draw direct comparisons between designs and with current transportation modes, but the highest costs will be attributed to land acquisition and tunnelling[1]. It is important to note that g-force is a measure of acceleration and travelling at a fixed velocity does not increase g-force[51]. Leaked Virgin Hyperloop One documents show that the company estimates its costs to be around $195 million/km[52], whereas the new California high speed rail is currently projected to cost around $248 million/km[53]. This indicates that hyperloop construction could be more cost effective than the high speed rail, but scaling the Virgin Hyperloop One project would likely lead to a significant increase in costs.

Environmental Impact

In his whitepaper on Hyperloop technology, Elon Musk states that the hyperloop is "faster, cheaper, cleaner"[54]. This section covers the ‘cleaner’ aspect by elaborating upon how the hyperloop will be an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly mode of transport, particularly in the areas of energy efficiency, sustainability and climate change.

Many companies that are playing a part in the development of the hyperloop are emphasizing the environmental benefits of this transportation technology. One example is Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One. He says, “as the world's population grows, especially our urban populations, global demands for rapid, seamless travel, and more efficient deliveries will continue to rise. We must meet demand in a way that is efficient, clean, and protects the future of our planet”[55].

Energy Efficiency

Energy Consumption

Energy Consumption
Fig 6. Energy Consumption of Different Transportation Systems [56]

Musk claims Hyperloop pods will be less damaging to the environment as compared to aircrafts. Hyperloops fits with Musk’s aim for cleaner transports and believes that the hyperloop will help shift transport away from carbon to renewables [57]. According to a feasibility study conducted by the US Department of Transportation (DOT), it is estimated that Hyperloop routes “can be up to six times more energy-efficient than air travel on short routes while delivering speeds three times faster than the world’s fastest high-speed rail system" [56]. In the study, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) also compares the energy consumption of different modes of transport and depicts that the hyperloop is the most energy-efficient. The table can be seen in figure 6.

Renewable Energy Sources

Elon Musk suggests that solar panels should be placed on the outer area of the hyperloop. In his white paper on hyperloop technology, Musk states that through the utilization of solar energy, “the hyperloop can generate far in excess of the energy needed to operate” [58]. This also includes enough energy to operate during stormy weather and night time.

Associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cleveland State University, Jacqueline Jenkins, says when building transport systems, the longevity of the infrastructure must be considered [58]. This means that new systems have to not only meet today’s transport needs but also consider the issue of climate change (an essential concern of the future). Transport must be sustainable in the long run. This is only possible through the incorporation of renewable energy sources as part of any new regional transportation system.

Solar Power
A Hyperloop Infrastructure with a Solar Panel on the Top Area [59]

Virgin Hyperloop One's Journey to Energy Efficiency

Virgin Hyperloop is planning to become the most energy-efficient mode of mass transportation. The hyperloop from Virgin Hyperloop One will be able to carry more people than a subway, at the speed of aeroplanes but with zero direct emissions [60]. The company's goals and initiatives can be broken down into three parts - energy efficiency, solar power and the Maharashtra project.

Energy Efficiency

The company claims that its hyperloop will be 5 to 10 times more energy-efficient than an airplane and faster than high-speed rail [61]. In addition to this, the hyperloop will use less energy through the combination of ultra-efficient electric motors, magnetic levitation, and a low-drag environment [61].

Solar Power

Through the use of solar power technology across the hyperloop infrastructure can support the creation of renewable energy. According to Virgin Hyperloop One, 'depending on the climate, the integration of solar technology could generate two-thirds of a route’s projected energy needs'[58].

Virgin Hyperloop One's Maharashtra Project

The Virgin Hyperloop One is looking towards making progress in the area of energy-efficient hyperloop development. The company is currently working with the Indian government of Maharashtra on the creation of a route between Pune and Mumbai [62]. The combined population of both areas is 25 million and currently, the cities see more than 75 million commuting trips annually. This number of commuting trips is expected to increase to 130 million by 2026. As the population increases, the number of travellers will increase. In turn, increasing the number of travels and the associated carbon emissions. According to Virgin Hyperloop One, the implementation of a regional hyperloop system in the Maharashtra region could reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by up to 150,000 tons (300 million pounds) [62].

Sustainability

EU’s movement towards a more climate resilient society

In 2020, the European Commission identified hyperloop as a “game-changing mobility technology” as part of its Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy for the European Green Deal. The strategy discusses how the EU will help reduce transit greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2050 through the adoption of the hyperloop, drones, autonomous vehicles, hydrogen aircraft, electric personal air vehicles, electric waterborne transport and clean urban logistics [62]. The idea of safer, cleaner transport also aligns with a number of UN’s Sustainable Development goals such as climate action, sustainable cities and communities and affordable and clean energy [62]. Developing smart, new strategies are “key to staying ahead of the curve” and will help the EU become the prime deployment destination of innovators. Countries in Europe are stepping forward with plans for the creation of the hyperloop. Zeleros, a Spanish company, has raised over 6.2 million (euros) to develop a version of the hyperloop [62]. Meanwhile, Hyper Poland, a Polish hyperloop development company, has raised over 436,000 (euros) through a UK equity crowdfunding campaign in support of its plan for hyperloop development [63].

The EU’s new strategy is also well-received by Virgin Group Founder, Sir Richard Branson, who believes the strategy is 'bold and ambitious' and would play a strong role in helping the commission achieve Europe’s sustainability goals [64]. Furthermore, Jay Walder, Virgin Hyperloop CEO, reinstates Sir Richard Branson’s words by adding, “the European Commission is paving the way for the future of sustainable mobility. We share a steadfast commitment to exploring innovative solutions to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, and we look forward to continuing to work together to create a hyper-connected Europe"[64].

Climate Change

GHG Table 1
Fig 7A. U.S Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector [65]
Energy GHG Table 2
Fig 7B. U.S. Transportation Sector Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Source[65]

Impact on Minimizing Carbon Footprint

Current estimates show that hyperloop travel can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90-95% per traveller [66]. Worldwide flights produced 946 million tons of CO2 in 2017. Virgin Hyperloop One spokesperson, Marcia Christoff, believes that if every passenger flight between 310 miles and 930 miles worldwide were replaced, hyperloop that runs on renewable electricity can reduce fossil fuel emissions from flying by 58 percent [58].

How general transportation systems impact the climate

Burning fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases like methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) negatively impacts the Earth’s ozone layer and causes the Earth’s atmosphere to warm. Ergo, leading to climate change [67]. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the largest contributors of the U.S. GHG emissions for about 29 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions [65]. This information can be seen in figure 7A.

Amongst the different modes of transport, light-duty vehicles such as trucks and cars are the largest contributors at 58% [65]. This information can be seen in figure 7B.

Helmut Schmidt University Research

In 2016, research was conducted by Helmut Schmidt University on the potential environmental impacts of the hyperloop, particularly on the shared value potential of transporting cargo via hyperloop (paper title) [68]. They calculated the effects on road traffic of building a 300km cargo hyperloop in northern Germany. The impact of removing thousands of trucks from the road, including reduced air and noise pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, congestion and road accidents was then quantified [54].

The study concluded that the hyperloop would be more eco-friendly than road vehicles even if the hyperloop cannot solely run on solar power. According to their study, the hyperloop can:

  1. Avoid emitting up to 140,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year [54]
  2. Avoid emitting up to 0.2% of Germany’s entire production of air pollutants like methane, nitrous oxides and dust [54]
  3. Produce up to €900m (£805m) of value in reduced pollution, accidents and congestion each year, which is equal to a third of hyperloop’s initial investment of estimated €2.7b [54]

Hyperloop is a prime example of how innovation in the transportation industry can contribute to the movement towards a prosperous, inclusive, climate-resilient society.

Societal Impact

Urbanization

Urbanization is the process of making an area more urban. The development of the hyperloop can influence rural areas in three ways:

  1. If the hyperloop is introduced to rural areas, these areas can become developed as more people will shift here due to lower housing prices and affordability
  2. If the hyperloop is introduced to urban areas such as Vancouver, San Francisco or London only, inequality between urban and rural areas will be amplified[69]. This is because urban areas will attract more inhabitants, business and tourism[69]
  3. With the hyperloop, targeted development can take place if the government wants to develop an area due to the area’s potential

For the purpose of this section (Societal Impact), the focus will be on the impact of the development of hyperloop projects in rural areas.

Access to Jobs

Access to jobs become easier for people living in rural areas. There are also more job opportunities available for those people because the distance between cities and rural areas shortens. When people have better access to job opportunities, their standard of living becomes better. Moreover, people in rural areas will have more choice on the type of work they would want to do and the company they would prefer to work for. Additionally, for people already working in areas farther from them, travel time would reduce dramatically.

Table House Prices
Fig 8. Average Home Prices in BC from 2010 to 2021 [70]

Impact on Housing

The current housing situation in BC shows how the prices of homes are largely increasing. Here are some research and statistics on how the housing crisis is impacting society:

  1. It has become difficult for young families and first-time buyers to find and purchase a home in the BC housing market [71]
  2. Millennials in the BC housing are being pushed out due to the factor of unaffordability [71]
  3. 46% of millennial homeowners have admitted that they needed help from their parents to purchase their first home [71]
  4. 61% of Canadians surveyed in Toronto report that the cost of living for their housing has increased. This is because salaries/wages are not able to keep up with inflation and this makes affording a house much more difficult [72]
  5. Seven out of 10 Canadians (71%) in Toronto who haven’t bought a home yet worry about saving up for one. This also includes four out of ten (39%) Canadians who worry a lot about not being able to save up for homes [72].


These statistics are alarming and can severely impact the well-being of society. For society, not being able to afford a home leads to:

  1. Sacrifices in care for health issues as people will be saving up for houses activities [73]
  2. Working extra hours to cover housing costs [73]
  3. Sharing of housing leading to overcrowded homes [73]
  4. Psychological damages such as stress, anxiety and depression [74]

The graph in figure 8 shows how the prices of homes have increased throughout the years from 2010 to 2021 in the Greater Vancouver Area, Fraser Valley and Chilliwack. The hyperloop would help to solve the housing crisis and relieve society from the burdens of worrying about affording homes. If the hyperloop is introduced in rural areas, where housing prices are low, people can move there from cities since distance will be reduced significantly. People can still work in cities such as Vancouver but can live in areas where the prices of homes are low. For instance, travelling easily (and with shorter timeframes) from Shuswap to Vancouver will encourage more people to live in Shuswap, which has considerably lower house prices than Vancouver and a large stock of available homes. Furthermore, the movement of people to rural areas will allow the economy of such areas to enhance. With the development of the hyperloop in rural areas, these areas will not only attract inhabitants but also business and tourism[69].

Another potential scenario would be that the potential costs of homes can decrease in urban areas as a growing number of people would be moving to rural areas.

Entry to education

Due to the hyperloop, entry to education for students becomes better. This is because the hyperloop dramatically reduces travel time. Students struggle with selecting universities due to issues such as distance and travel time as some of the best universities are spread across the world. Now, students have greater choices based on university, program and course selection.

Students have a greater barrier to access educational resources as compared to their peers due to the factor of distance. Students who live further from destinations, have lower daily trip rates and are less likely to engage in on-campus activities. According to a study on travel behaviour and society, students with longer commute durations are less likely to travel to campus and participate in on-campus activities [75]. This can impact students’ on-campus participation, class performance and success in educational pursuits. It was also suggested that students who have longer travel times are also more likely to select courses based on their commute [75]. This means students cannot select courses they prefer due to the element of distance.

While online learning can be considered for students living farther away from universities, online learning does not account for social interactions between students and instructors, in-class learning experiences, and participation in other on-campus activities [76].

Impact on Relationships

Through the removal of the barrier of distance, the hyperloop will connect us to the people that matter most more frequently. While applications such as Google Meet, Zoom and Skype and the growing use of virtual reality enable us to connect with friends and family, it does not quite top the feeling of meeting the ones you value in real life. According to Shervin Pishevar, co-founder and former executive chairman of Hyperloop One, “some connections just can't be made virtually. No matter how realistic VR becomes, you can't hug a hologram” [76].

Economical Impact

Virgin Hyperloop One Pune-Mumbai Project

In February 2018, the chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO), Richard Branson announced that the company will be constructing a hyperloop in the Maharashtra region that will run between central Pune and the Navi Mumbai airport. The project was declared as a public infrastructure project in partnership with the State of Maharashtra through signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) [77]. It is also noted that it would be forefronted by the Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority (PMRDA). The project is planned to be implemented in two phases, with the first phase focusing on building an 11.4km certified test track from Gahunje to Ozarde and the second phase centered around building the full commercial track which would be 117.5km in length [78]. Each phase has an estimated timeline of 4-5 years, with phase one targeted to begin construction in mid-2020. After successful safety commissioning testing and certification of the test track for phase one, phase two will commence [77].

 Pune to Mumbai
Pune to Mumbai [77]

Some highlights of the project are that it is expected to decrease travel time from 3 hours to 25 minutes, with the pods carrying the ability to move passengers or cargo safely at speeds of up to 1100km/h [79]. The hyperloop system will also have several pods departing per minute, which will aid in connecting 15 million people through the projected 150 million passenger trips it is expected to support, annually [78]. The project is also being carried entirely by the private sector with phase one being funded through equity and phase two being funded through a mix of debt and equity of which any project risks or budget overruns would be borne by the concessionaire. Throughout the course of its construction, the project is expected to cost Rs. 70,000 crore or $9.3 billion which it would attract through Foreign Direct Investment [77].

In terms of economic benefits that this project is set to provide, VHO released job figures for the entire project that were verified by their strategic partner, KPMG [80]. Together, they estimate that over the course of the project’s lifetime, 1.8 million direct and indirect jobs will be created, with some of the jobs being through construction, operation, manufacturing, and research and development. Over its lifetime, the hyperloop will also create over $36 billion USD in socio-economic benefits, which would result in a 2.6% increase in the Maharashtra state’s GDP. Some of this will come from the hyperloop component and manufacturing opportunities that the state will be able to supply for future India hyperloops as well as to export across the world. According to Harj Dhaliwal, Managing Director of India and the Middle East for Virgin Hyperloop One, he said “We envision a future in which Maharashtra becomes a global supply hub to support hyperloop projects around the world with manufacturing, design, and engineering support services –– making it not just hyperloop’s first home, but a global leader for the first new mode of mass transportation in over 100 years.” By doing so, it will also help contribute to the Maharashtra state’s goal of becoming a trillion dollar economy [80].

Transpod Calgary-Edmonton Project

In August 2020, Transpod signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Alberta to support the continuing research and development of a proposed hyperloop line in Alberta. In accordance with the collaboration, Alberta Transportation and Transpod officials are working together to select suitable land that can safely accommodate a test track. In June 2021, they released a feasibility study, moving them into their next stage of acquiring initial investment and research and development [81].

Some highlights of the proposed Transpod line that will run between Edmonton and Calgary are that it'll be able to reach speeds of a jet aircraft and carry passengers and cargo at speeds of over 600km/h. They also state that a ticket to use their hyperloop will cost 45% less than that of a flight, with the hyperloop ticket costing only $90 CAD in comparison to a plane ticket costing $162 CAD. From their feasibility study, Transpod estimates that the hyperloop will create up to 140,000 jobs and grow Alberta's GDP by 6.25% across nine years. This will equate to an added 19.2 billion to Alberta’s GDP by 2030. The project is also claimed to to reduce Alberta's carbon emissions by 636,000 tonnes each year, with all of these benefits being achieved at no cost to the taxpayer. In addition to the hyperloop offering improved affordability for travelers and significant economic and employment growth, Transpod also states that the project will offer faster travel times. They predict that by 2030, their hyperloop will have a ridership of 6.4 million travelers, which would eventually grow to 19.2 million travelers by 2060. They approximate that with these figures, this would equate to a savings of 18 million travel hours per year and $1.9 billion in economic benefits [81]. Some other key findings from Transpod's feasibility study state that the project will improve traffic flow on roads between Calgary and Edmonton by 32%, between Calgary and Calgary airport by 21%, and between Edmonton and Edmonton airport by 18%, respectively. The final benefit suggested in Transpod’s feasibility study is the reduction in road accidents. Due to the decrease of use of cars with the implementation of a hyperloop, they state that this reduction in road accidents would save an estimated $50 million in expenses. The findings for the technical and commercial feasibility of the Alberta line by Transpod was forecasted by collaborating with local and global infrastructure, engineering, transportation, and financial organizations. Transpod explains that their predictions were calculated by analyzing route options, passenger demand, cargo demand, construction and operating costs, economic impacts, and financing options [81].

Transpod is currently in its short-term phase where they are focusing on securing the initial investment for the first 20 km of the hyperloop line, as well as for the research and development. This phase is set to run from 2020 to 2024. Their medium-term phase is set between 2022 and 2027, where test track construction and high speed tests will commence. Their last phase for the long-term will center on building the full inter-city line between Edmonton and Calgary which they predict will begin in 2025 [81].

HyperloopTT Hyperport

In July 2021, HyperloopTT, an American research company announced their project proposal of creating a sustainable high-speed cargo and freight solution name “Hyperport" in Hamburg, Germany. The system was designed in collaboration with Mormedi, a Spanish innovation consultancy [82].

 Hyperport Capsule
Hyperport Capsule [83]

Some highlights of the Hyperport are that it is designed to be a “plug-n-play” solution for port operators as it will be an electric-powered cargo system which they hope will revolutionize the freight industry. The system is set to be able to move 2,800 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per day in an enclosed environment at speeds of up to 600 km/h. For reference, each capsule is designed to sustainably transport two 20-foot containers at airplane speeds. HyperloopTT states that this solution will increase reliability, efficiency and worker safety by eliminating at-grade crossings [84].

The aim of the Hyperport is to provide a freight solution capable of increasing capacity and efficiency while decreasing pollution and congestion at ports worldwide [84]. According to the design team, the system would also increase the frequency by which containers could be released from ports and delivered to their destination. As part of the project, HyperloopTT has begun a joint venture with Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA), the Port of Hamburg operator, to allow them to see how the technology could ease movement for port and inland shipping containers. The system is currently in the certification design review phase where they are focusing on the construction of a transfer station for testing in addition to a 300-foot cargo route with a freight capsule and loading dock [82]. In terms of economic benefits, Hyport is expected to be a critical player in contributing to the global logistics industry’s growth of $12 trillion by 2023 [85].

Hyperloop Industry Growth

In terms of industry growth, the hyperloop technology market is expected to see an increase from its current $1.2 billion USD value in 2021 to $6.6 billion by 2026, with a compounded annual growth rate of 40.4% [86]. This predicted growth is due to some of hyperloop’s factors such as the transportation technology offering shorter travel times, lower passenger costs, less consumption of land area, being more eco-friendly, and its ability to withstand earthquakes. According to Musk, hyperloops would be earthquake tolerant as they would be built on pylons, with two adjustable lateral dampers. These mechanics would allow the tube to not be rigidly fixed to the ground, but instead absorb the force of the movement to prevent damage from shattering [87].

However, the hyperloop industry also has some growth restraints that can stunt some of its growth potential. These restraints are the lack of awareness of this new and emerging technology, governmental regulations that have not yet been implemented, safety and security concerns, and the loss of jobs that will result from hyperloop negatively affecting other industries. Nonetheless, once the existence of a viable, functioning hyperloop emerges, some of these growth restraints will lessen. A fully functioning hyperloop for the public will increase global awareness of the technology, thereby increasing its popularity and spurring the growth of future hyperloops and its use [86].

Industry Impact

Transportation

With the introduction of the faster, affordable, and more eco-friendly transportation technology of hyperloop, much of the transportation industry will be severely impacted. Specifically, shorter distance transportation methods that are used for within city travel will see an increase in use while longer distance transportations will see a decrease as they’d be likely replaced with the more efficient hyperloop [88].

Some of the transportation methods that would experience an increase in demand are taxis and busses. This is due to a population increase in smaller communities as people will move from living in urban communities to more urban ones. With this population increase will also come new opportunities to build transit routes and require taxis which were previously less in demand due to lack of population density. Taxis and busses will also see an influx in passengers as there will be more demand to transport hyperloop users to and from the hyperloop terminal [88].

Conversely, some transportation methods that will experience decreases in demand are trucking, trains, and airplanes. For trucking, it is likely to be replaced as a four-day truck journey could be reduced to 16 hours with hyperloop. Additionally, truck drivers have a daily limit of hours they can drive as they must stop for fuel and rest while a hyperloop is autonomous and can thus, run 24/7. With the decrease in the need for trucks to transport cargo, many truck drivers would be laid off [88]. Cargo and passenger trains are also likely to see a decrease as hyperloop technologies are being designed to become faster and more sustainable alternatives. Specifically, hyperloops are expected to be 2-3 times faster than bullet trains, as well as being cheaper, with a hyperloop round-trip ticket only costing $60 in comparison to a bullet train ticket of $90. Hyperloop would also be a more environmentally friendly alternative as it has no direct emissions or noise [89]. Consequently, this would result in a loss of jobs for railroad engineers. In terms of airplanes, they become less viable options for long-distance transportation as hyperloop will be able to move more freight and people at a lower cost. This is due to the higher price of jet fuel in comparison to electricity which the hyperloop is powered off of. Additionally, hyperloops would be more competitive due to their lack of need for operators. This would save on expenses of paying for employee benefits and dealing with pilot unions. In most cases, hyperloop would also be faster, making the switch to this new technology easy. With the decrease in use of airplanes will come a loss of jobs for pilots, aircraft mechanics, and flight attendants [48].

However, not all jobs will be lost as aircraft mechanics could be retrained for hyperloop maintenance. Truck drivers could also find work for shorter distance journeys hauling freight to and from the hyperloop terminals. Airline attendants could also become hyperloop attendants. In addition, not all airplane travel and related jobs will become obsolete as there will still be a need for planes for transoceanic and transcontinental flights [48].

Real Estate

With the ease and speed of travelling longer distances with hyperloop, over time, people will move from densely-populated areas to more rural ones. This is due to affordability and its new feasibility to still be able to work within the city despite living farther away without incurring longer commute times. With this, will come an increase in population and value for rural areas as peripheral locations will often witness a growth from commercial activities. This would also create more options for work, restaurants, shopping, social/cultural events [90]. However, these real estate changes will likely only be witnessed in the long term as the current priority of building hyperloops would be to connect major cities. This would cause the increase in real estate for urban areas to increase first before it eventually settles with the dispersion of population to rural areas [91].

 Hyperloop Hotel
Hyperloop Hotel [92]

Tourism

The tourism industry is likely to see an increase as hyperloop would make it more feasible for tourists or residents of hyperloop connected cities to whisk in for short trips to shop, visit, and attend events. The early introduction of a hyperloop line could also become a tourist attraction, similar to Vancouver’s Expo 86 fair and introduction of the Expo skytrain line [93].

With the increase in tourism has also come the concept of a hyperloop hotel. The idea won top honours in the 2017 Radical Innovation Award, a competition held annually for futuristic hotel designs. The hyperloop hotel concept would move passengers in the hotel room that they are occupying to save the hassle of buying separate transit tickets to travel between America’s largest cities. According to the creator, Brandon Siebrecht, "Guests would be able to travel to any hotel destination within the network and even visit multiple destinations in a single day." Siebrecht also believes that construction of this concept could become possible in the next five to ten years [92].

Human Resources

With hyperloop enabling longer commutes, it can ease the recruitment and selection process for employers by widening their pool of job candidates. This will also make it easier for companies to fill niche job roles and allow them to decrease expenses by opening more small, remote offices where employees can work most of the time. This would make remote work easier as employees could hop on the hyperloop and commute to HQ for in-person meetings when needed. In addition to increasing where companies can hire, it will also give employees more options for where they can live. The viability of longer distance commutes will give employees more options when it comes to housing, as well as increasing the geographic reach for which jobs they can consider [93].

Authors

Gleb Pirogov Kevin Liu Kimberly Yick Maryam Liaqat Vivian Xu
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada

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