You’ve just finished your Friday lunch meeting in Hamburg and check your schedule. All clear. It’s a nice day, so you take a relaxed stroll towards the harbour for a tour of the stunning Elbphilharmonie, before getting into a comfortable pod that hurtles you through a tube back home to Munich in time to pick up your kids from school. And all for the price of a bus ticket.
Sounds like something out of a Hollywood sci-fi movie. But it’s a fantasy that Renewable Energy Engineer Michel Eid is working hard on turning into reality.
Last year Michel led a team* that entered the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, a competition to select locations around the world that could develop and construct the world’s first Hyperloop networks.
Hyperloop, a concept driven by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, works by loading passengers and cargo into a pod which quickly lifts above a track using magnetic levitation. It then accelerates gently and gradually via an electric motor, gliding silently inside a vacuum tunnel for miles at airline speeds.
Michel and his team’s proposal is the “Hyperbahn” — a Hyperloop system suspended above Germany’s highway network connecting Hamburg, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Nuremberg, Leipzig and Berlin – a route of around 1,800km.
“We strategically chose to capture the largest cities in Germany with the highest population densities, major industrial zones, as well as major ports,” Michel said. “It’s an extremely ambitious project. But putting the loop above the Autobahn makes it simpler as it avoids critical obstacles such as land acquisition and major geographical obstructions.”
Boosting local economies and trade
With Hyperbahn pods potentially travelling at over 1000km/h, people can choose their hometown independently to where they work. Companies will also be able to reduce their presence in expensive metropolises to a minimum, having offices 30 minutes — potentially 200-500km — away from big cities.
Michel explained: “This would lower costs, reduce congestion, produce cleaner urban areas and enable growth for smaller cities. This multiplier effect would spread to the service sector, tourism industry and airport connections.”
Because of Germany’s central European location, upgrading it with a Hyperloop would make Hamburg, the EU’s third-largest seaport, and Frankfurt Airport, the continent’s busiest cargo terminal, more accessible to all neighbouring states, especially eastern European countries.
Cargo from Hamburg could travel to the industrial south of Germany in less than one hour. The eastern loop section of the Hyperbahn would also open up to Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary, and in the west, connect to France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
“Hyperbahn can spread all over Europe and connect all important industrial, economic and financial cities in Europe, fundamentally strengthening the EU economy,” Michel said.
Three birds, one stone
The loop of the Hyperbahn — down and across the warm and sunny south, then up to the cooler and breezier north – gave the team an idea for an innovative addition for the concept, one that could result in it being a CO2-free transportation system.
By covering the Hyperbahn with photovoltaic panels along its 30 metre width to soak up the sun, the team estimates that this would produce approximately 7 million MWh per year, enough energy for 58,000 electric cars to travel 1,800km a day each on the Autobahn underneath.
The team has created a unique opportunity to upgrade the Hyperbahn into a combination of a Hyperloop network, a solar farm and a power network that acts as a robust renewable energy grid. It’ll be able to transport solar energy from south to north — and wind energy from north to south.
Turning concept into reality
In January 2017, Michel and his team became one of the 35 semi-finalists of the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. On top of this success, the team has gone beyond the challenge’s requirements, collaborating with technology and industry experts, as well as political entities, to push the concept into a more detailed and realistic study.
“Hyperbahn produces and transports energy, and moves people and cargo faster and cleaner than any method we have today,” Michel said. “It’s an all-in-one system that is elegantly and simply constructed on top or along existing infrastructure. It is simply unbeatable.”
Hyperloop One, the Californian company that launched the competition, expects to announce the finalists this year. The eventual winners will work closely with its engineering and business development teams to explore project development and financing.
“It’s exciting and a bit nerve-wracking getting one step closer to making your dreams a reality,” Michel smiled. “But it’s also proof that hard work and teamwork can get you anywhere you want.”
*The core Hyperbahn team includes Juan Alonso, Xiaolin Hu, Paul Krieger, Lisa Neeb, Frank Ostermann and Albin Toth