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IRU speaks to Juan Vicén
Global | Muscat

Hyperloop is here

17 Dec 2018

IRU speaks to Juan Vicén, Co-founder of Zeleros Hyperloop –  and joint winner of the IRU/Road Ventures startup competition. He explains the nuts and bolts – or the "coils and magnets" – of the Zeleros hyperloop system. With the first test-track due to be launched in 2019 – hyperloop is here.


What is a hyperloop?

Hyperloop is a new means of transport that combines the speed of a plane with the frequency of a metro. It is a system of capsules that levitate inside low-pressure tubes minimising air and ground resistance, enabling speeds of up to 1000 km/h with reduced energy consumption. 

The concept of moving in low-pressure tubes was invented almost 200 years ago by English inventor George Medhurst and the levitation was then introduced by Russian professor Boris Weinberg in the early 1800s. During that century the magnetic levitation advanced, giving birth to the first magnetic levitation trains in China and Japan. 

Meanwhile, the space race and research into low-pressure environments enabled the development of high-frequency automation and big vacuum infrastructures such as the Large Hadron Collider. These technological advances of the 20th century were decisive for the re-introduction of the concept in 2013 by Elon Musk, who proposed a concept and created a university competition to boost development. Since then, about six private companies (of which Zeleros is one) and two state-owned hyperloop initiatives (in China and Korea) have emerged.


How does Zeleros’ system achieve a scalable solution for long-distance travel?

The real problem when it comes to magnetic levitation transport systems (such as the Japanese and Chinese levitation trains or the hyperloop) is infrastructure costs. This is a problem because they have the main systems of levitation and propulsion all along the track. 

Adding coils and magnets increases costs and makes it unfeasible for long distances (where hyperloop has the competitive advantage). Some hyperloop companies have proposed magnetic levitation trains inside a tube, working at very low pressure. 

This is why at Zeleros we developed a solution in which the vehicle can propel and levitate autonomously with our proprietary technologies. It is also zero emissions (fully electric), reducing infrastructure complexity and thus offering the needed scalability for long distance routes. At the same time, there are other advantages. 

It does not only reduce infrastructure construction, operation and maintenance costs by up to 30%, but it is also capable of working at similar pressures to aircraft, with already established and well-known safety systems that minimise risk for passengers in case of emergency. 

“The main goal is to have energy efficiency and safety/comfort at the centre of the development.”

We are also working at international scale with European and Canadian hyperloop companies and public bodies such as the European Commission to achieve a standard, which will be the key to connect the world and ensure interoperability. 

Zeleros team

Does it work for goods and passenger transport?

Our system works for both, goods and passenger. 

“Obviously, freight transport will come earlier (similar to space rockets) but then the passenger options will follow.”

We want to be on the safe side in this way and don't promise passenger capsules before we have the cargo transport working, which will happen in the following years.


You recently won the Road Ventures/IRU startup competition and received funds for further investment. What are your key priorities for the immediate future – how will you use the investment?

Our key priority, after validating our technologies at laboratory scale, is now to demonstrate all the technologies together in a vehicle at high-speeds on a test-track that will be built in Spain in 2019. 

The medium-scale track will be 2-km and will be located in Sagunto, near our headquarters, and we are putting all our efforts into making this a reality. 

“It will become one of the first hyperloop test-tracks in the world and we want it to become a reference in hyperloop research.”

The investment will be used for vehicle and tube development, team growth, IP protection and tools for employees. 

The next step in 2020-2021, is to develop a hyperloop real-scale test-track (if possible that can already be used for the first route) in order to establish the standard and certify the system for commercial operations. We want to become a reference and we know that hyperloop is a complex system in which all stakeholders need to push in the same direction, that is why we suggest this track can be used by the several hyperloop companies to establish the standard. For this one we are seeking interested institutions and other interest groups that would like to be the first movers in this revolution and we are open for collaboration.


What is your advice to transport leaders with respect to leveraging technology and innovation?

Our main recommendation to the transport industry leaders is as a first step that they try to understand the hyperloop technologies. It is a complex system but we are here to help and the feedback they provide is interesting to accelerate development. They should also be open for discussion and be able to see the different advantages and disadvantages of each system. They should be open to taking risks, since the first pilot projects will become a reference for the rest of the world.

We are open for collaboration with any company interested in exploring our system potential to boost competitiveness. We are already doing so with other companies and we believe the Middle East has big potential in this respect.


What is your vision for the future of transport?

“At Zeleros we believe in a more connected, efficient and sustainable world.”

Hyperloop systems are key to boosting the transport revolution that can bring us back our more valuable resource in life: time. We are already working on this, and we will keep working to complement all other means of transport and to make the overall system more efficient for our society.