Need to go from Edmonton to Calgary? With emerging hyperloop technology being developed by Canadian-based TransPod, the journey could soon take roughly an hour without having to set foot on an airplane or burn fossil fuels.
According to a feasibility study recently released by TransPod, the system will carry passengers and cargo faster than 600 km/h, far faster than a high-speed train. A trip between the two cities would cost around $90. The electric system is built on a proprietary design that leverages aerospace engineering. The company is developing this technology with high safety standards in collaboration with the European Union and United States transportation departments. The TransPod vehicle’s top speed is similar to a jet, but it travels at ground level in a protected guideway.
Sebastien Gendron, co-founder and CEO of TransPod Inc., believes the system could generate massive economic benefits for Alberta’s struggling economy by creating a new high-tech industry ripe for export. He explained the basic concept for a system like TransPod’s has been around for more than a century.
“If you really want to go beyond 200 km/h at ground level you need to get rid of aerodynamic friction,” said Gendron. “That’s when people started to think about removing most of the air in a tube.”
This is achieved by creating a low-pressure environment around a sealed track. The vehicles are propelled by linear induction engines, which are powered by fully electric energy. TransPod’s JetGlide technology controls a magnetic levitation system to keep the vehicle off the bottom of the tube guideway, creating a smooth ride, and reducing energy consumption due to an absence of mechanical friction between the vehicle and that limits traditional trains.
While TransPod is not the first to envision a hyperloop system, they are attempting to revolutionize the idea by solving one of its biggest problems: cost.
The main challenge faced by previous vacuum tube transportation systems is the staggering cost of maglev technology which uses the repulsion force of superconducting magnets on the track to levitate the train cars. Instead, Gendron and his team will use the attraction force generated by magnetic engines on the vehicle to achieve this.
“Our idea is the concentrate all the technology on the vehicle and leave the infrastructure as simple as possible,” said Gendron.
The feasibility report estimates the entire system could be built for $22.4 billion. And to make it turn a profit, Gendron and his team found another way to stretch dollars and make the project more appealing to investors.
“We realized you must not only look at the occupancy level of the train but instead the utilization of infrastructure,” said Gendron. “If you can’t fill it, you can’t make money.”
That means transporting more than people. Gendron said there is massive opportunity for DHL, FedEx, Amazon and others to reduce the carbon footprint of their trucks and planes by shipping on the TransPod system. The team’s research shows that initially 60 per cent of the system’s traffic would be freight rather than people.
But before anything is put on TransPod’s aerospace-inspired, autonomous vehicles, the team is planning to build a test track to Edmonton’s airport. And once the 20 kilometre system receives all authorizations by officials it will be connected and used by the public.
Gendron said his team expects to secure funding for the test track sometime this year and is already in discussions to fund the full system. The test track would take two years to build and could have passengers by 2027.
Currently Gendron and his team are working on building 1/4th scale vehicles and track portions to demonstrate the technology.
“Our objective is to contribute to the province’s diversification,” said Gendron. “We want to contribute to the transformation of the existing economy into something greener.”
The team also wants to ensure Indigenous groups are included and have reached out to begin this process.
“We want this project to be as inclusive as possible and we are starting to approach First Nations to see how they can benefit,” said Gendron.
He team is also closely watching the European Union’s efforts to regulate hyperloop systems which would give Canada a regulatory framework potentially by 2025.
“We hope to soon be bringing all the pieces of the puzzle together,” said Gendron.
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