Hyper-loop Technology : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.

Key phrases: Hyperloop, Ultrahigh speed, vacuum tight tube, pressurized vehicles, contactless levitation, Climate-Neutral, Virgin Hyperloop.

Why in News?

  • The Railways is also in the news for its plans on hyper loop trains, hydrogen fuel-cell trains and lighter aluminium coaches — the most futuristic being hyper loop.

What is Hyper-loop technology?

  • Hyper loop is an ultra-high-speed ground transportation system for passenger and cargo proposed as a concept by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, in a white paper back in 2013.
  • The system consists of sealed and partially evacuated tubes, connecting mobility hubs in large metropolitan areas, and pressurized vehicles, usually called pods, which can move at very high speeds, thanks to contactless levitation and propulsion systems as well as to the low aerodynamic drag.

Advantages of Hyper loop technology:

  • Climate-Neutral: With fully-electric and efficient operations, the system aims at being climate-neutral over the course of its life cycle.
  • City Centre to City Centre: By connecting mobility hubs in large metropolitan areas the door-to-door travel time is considerably reduced.
  • Ultra-High Speeds: Contactless levitation and propulsions systems as well as the low pressure environment allow the pod to travel efficiently at ultra-high speeds.
  • Cost estimates of hyperloop vary from $20-40 million per km; the lower figure is comparable with that for high speed rail (HSR).
  • The running costs are lower than that of HSR, feasible due to lower energy input. But maintenance issues have not been assessed.

How The Hyperloop Works?

  • Hyperloop Technology consists of a long vacuum tube, and it has a compartment like a capsule. Those compartments are called pods. These pods run at high speed inside the vacuum tube. These tubes are called loops.
  • It mainly uses two types of technology- Magnetic levitation and Air pressure. Because of this, there is very less friction between the pods and the tube. Due to this, its speed is so fast that it leaves the maglev train too far behind.
  • Because in this technology transportation takes place in the loop itself, which means when passengers want to travel, they will travel through this loop. Hence this is named hyperloop technology.

What are the concerns related to Hyper-loop technology?

Despite the ambitious progress that's already been made, we are still in the early stage of hyperloop development with certain concerns needing attention :

  • High speeds: The first hyperloop passenger test reached a top speed of 107 mph in 6.25 seconds. We still don't know the effect that extreme acceleration within an enclosed chamber will have on the human body. Astronauts train their bodies to handle extreme acceleration, and PBS wondered if the hyperloop experience will be "two minutes of puke city."
  • Collisions within the vacuum tubes: Hyperloop system designs have multiple pods traveling at very high speeds within a single tube. Because the pods are within the braking threshold of one another, there's the risk of a very dangerous collision.
  • Hyperloop pod damage: Obviously, humans need air to live, and the tunnels do not have breathable air. Engineers need to address the safety of a situation when the pod becomes compromised.
  • Tunnel decompression: Because the tunnel is a near-vacuum, a break in the structure would cause it to implode. For example, look at what happens if the air pressure of a railroad tank car vacuum is compromised. The damage is nearly instantaneous.
  • These safety concerns just scratch the surface. Engineers will have to plan for all sorts of contingencies like heat expansion, earthquakes, or human error.
  • The nature of regulatory mechanism is unclear in India.
  • One problem that the builders will be facing is the land acquisition, which has been a major problem for any project implemented in the past as well.

Companies Working on Hyperloop:

  • Virgin Hyperloop (formerly Hyperloop One) is one of the best-funded hyperloop projects, giving it the most resources for R&D. It's also leading the pack in patents, and in 2020, it completed the first-ever hyperloop passenger test.
  • Hyperloop TT has a test track in France. It plans to build a hyperloop between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with the track becoming operational by 2023. In the U.S., the company is planning to have an operational hyperloop by 2028, connecting Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. This route could potentially unify the region's labor market while reinvigorating regional manufacturing because of the ability to quickly transport goods.
  • In 2020, a consortium of European and Canadian hyperloop companies became another big player in the industry. Collectively working on the issue of international standardization, this joint technical committee will look at regulation, interoperability, and safety. The group includes Hardt Hyperloop (Netherlands), Hyper Poland, TransPod (Canada), and Zeleros Hyperloop (Spain).

Way forward:

  • NITI Aayog expert committee members have found that there are two ways of doing it:
  • One is, allowing foreign companies to show demonstrations. Another way is, in parallel, do serious R&D in this particular area, and NITI Aayog studies show that we have a capacity to do R&D and come up with our own designs.
  • But since it is going to take time, in parallel, if the foreign companies are coming who want to set up a demonstration line in say Maharashtra or Karnataka, we should permit them.
  • India should also constitute a Safety and regulatory mechanisms because safety is a major issue in hyperloop technology.

NITI Aayog Expert Committee on Hyperloop Technology

  • In 2020, Government think-tank NITI Aayog has formed a high-level panel to explore the technological and commercial viability of the Virgin Hyperloop technology for ultrahigh speed travel in India.
  • It explore technological, commercial, financial (viability) feasibility and (assess) safety standards and regulations to procure new technology.

Source: The Hindu BL 

Mains Question:

Q. Recent accident of the Bikaner-Guwahati Express on January 13, 2022, brought the concern on government plans to introduce hyperloop trains, hydrogen fuel-cell trains in India. Discuss the technological, commercial and financial viability of hyper-loop technology in India. Critically Analyse.