Can you imagine working in Caxias do Sul, being able to go to lunch in Porto Alegre and be able to get back to work in time? It is this futuristic scenario that the company HyperloopTT is promising to bring the Rio Grande do Sul like hyperloop, ultra fast shipping with the same company name.
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Until now, she is solely responsible for the first and only large-scale testing system of hyperloop technology in the world, in Toulouse, on France. Other partnerships are under development in the United Arab Emirates, USA and Germany, but, so far, none of the projects have come off the ground.
In its past studies, the company claims that the systems are economically and technically viable and that they would generate profits without requiring government subsidies. Despite this, hyperloop is far from being a panacea: it is contested by the public for its hefty price, advanced technology and potential risks.
In the survey released this Thursday, 2nd, carried out in partnership with the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul and the State Government, it was estimated that there would be a reduction in 2.3 billion reais in the operating cost of the route, in addition to the generation of approximately 60,000 jobs and about 95,000 tons of CO2 less on the atmosphere.
With these numbers, it can be hard to understand why many tunnel experts, engineers and other industry professionals seriously doubt the chances of hyperloop ever working. — and, that if one day it opens its doors, it could lead to a catastrophic result.
What is hyperloop technology?
The idea of the hyperloop is to reproduce on the ground the same conditions found by planes at altitude. Shipping is done by capsules that travel inside a tube of low atmospheric pressure.
Instead of rails, the company promises a magnetic system, which makes the capsules float inside the tubes. Without the friction of wind or rails, the capsules reach speeds that can reach 1,2000 kilometers per hour, with low power consumption.
The concept is often attributed to Elon Musk, who have another company idea-driven, called Boring Company. THEalthough the idea has been around for over 100 years, the executive president of Tesla released a public article in 2013 describing a magnetic levitation rail system that runs through a tube and suggested that companies and universities go after and develop hyperloop technology.
New study shows project feasibility in Brazil
The research carried out in partnership with UFRGS considered the period of five years for the implementation of the system and analyzed the impacts of the project over the 30 years of operation of transport in the south of the country.
The team behind the project claims to have prioritized a route that minimizes the distance between cities and, at the same time, suits the terrain topography to reduce the need for complex works related to tunnels and viaducts and thus mitigate the environmental impact .
“HyperloopTT’s design breaks traditional concepts and brings innovations both in terms of infrastructure and in terms of the operation of a transport system. This required the articulation of various types of knowledge and teamwork by professionals in areas such as energy, load demand forecasting, route study, among others, at the Universidader”, said Dr. Christine Tessele Nodari, project coordinator by the Laboratory of UFRGS Transport Systems.
See more details of the study:
With the system, HyperloopTT estimates that the 135-kilometer path of Porto Alegre to Caxias do Sul, which today is done in two hours by car, can be done in only 19 minutes and 45 seconds, at a maximum speed of 835 kilometers per hour.
In the study, the company estimates that, in 30 years, there will be a reduction of 2.3 billion reais in the operating cost of this route, which would also pass through the cities of New Hamburg e Lawn.
According to the geographic characteristics of the region, the study found that the total cost for implementing the hyperloop, together with the operating costs and taxes for the next 30 years, it would be 7.71 billion reais.
The survey estimates that the amount invested would be offset within the first five years of operation, mainly with revenue from passengers (52%) and enterprises (35%), in addition to station store rental (2%), advertising (2% ) and cargo transportation (1%).
Another promise is in the stimulus of the local economy from the moment of construction. would be 50,000 direct jobs in the Construction sector during the construction period, 9,243 direct and indirect jobs and 2,077 jobs in the Solar Energy sector annually for 30 years.
In addition to urban mobility, another sector that promises to benefit in the region is the real estate. About six years into the hyperloop implementation, the study estimates that there should be an appreciation of 27.4 billion reais of land and properties around the stations.
The modal proposed by HyperloopTT is powered by renewable energy and provides for the installation of photovoltaic panels on 80% of the Porto Alegre – Serra Gaúcha route above ground.
Its annual energy production potential is estimated at 339 GWh, while energy consumption is only 73 GWh per year. Thus, the hyperloop will be able to produce 3.6 times more energy than it consumes and be considered a system with energy self-sufficiency, in which the sale of the surplus is not necessary for their survival.
The research also states that around 95,000 tons of CO2 will no longer go into the atmosphere with the adoption of transport in Rio Grande do Sul.
And why do you doubt the hyperloop?
While small-scale experiments show that the fundamentals of hyperloop are ideal, actually building a tube hundreds of kilometers long with a perfect vacuum and that can transport large groups of people in ultra-fast capsules sounds, to say the least, like one of the biggest challenges in engineering today.
Also, the real world is very different from scaled-down experiments. There are numerous factors that can lead to a problem with big repercussions, especially if you take into account the structure of the system: what happens when the capsule traveling at more than 800 kilometers per hour passes through some technical difficulty?
A single tube also means that, in the event of an accident, all the capsules about to follow the same route would not succeed and could even be “in traffic” within the route.
In a vacuum capsule system, you also need to consider what would happen if there were any system decompression. According to website analysis Interesting Engineering, the train would accelerate rapidly with the entry of air and reach “supersonic speeds”. Piping defects could cause decompression and disastrous results.
It is also necessary to consider the social factor: what would happen inside the hyperloop in emergencies or violence? In the event of an explosion, the entire tube could be affected. Humans are unpredictable and a more advanced security scheme can solve the problem, but it also increases costs.
Lastly, hyperloop technology is extremely expensive. O cost of operation forecast in the feasibility study in Rio Grande do Sul, for example, is 7 billion reais, despite promising a return in five years. But, if we take into account all the difficulties surrounding technology, construction and day-to-day life, it is necessary to question whether the investment is worth it or whether the model is suitable for the journey.
The idea of the hyperloop is amazing and it could, yes, come true one day. In any case, more research and investment is needed for it to be considered a truly effective public transport. Would Brazil be the ideal testing platform for this?
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