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Opinion: Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Takes A Step Forward

by Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com

For the first time in close to a century, mankind may be about to give serious attention to a technology that has the potential to be a true game-changer in transportation.

Elon Musk famously proposed the idea of the Hyperloop a few years ago [earlier post], and suggested it could be a revolutionary method for travel based on available technology today. The Hyperloop has already created extreme controversy with skeptics citing everything from the cost of land in California to the substantial g-forces that would impact passengers being accelerated from 0 to 700+ miles per hour in a short span of time. Yet while there are reasons to be cautious about the technology, the Hyperloop should also be cheered as the continuation of a long tradition of American innovation and pushing the boundaries of the human experience.

Now Musk’s Hyperloop looks set to take its first tentative steps towards reality as a test version of the track is nearing the construction phase. This begs an interesting question—if the Hyperloop works, how big of a disruptive force would it be for the airline industry? The Hyperloop certainly has other (arguably simpler) market opportunities than moving people, such as disrupting the air freight or trucking industry, but those are issues for another time. For today, it’s useful to just think about the impact of the Hyperloop on the airline industry.

In practice the Hyperloop’s ability to compete with airlines is going to be driven by a combination of price of tickets and travel time. Price, in turn, will be substantially impacted by energy costs for transporting passengers in the Hyperloop. The technology behind the actual test track of the Hyperloop is well proven, but not on the scale that Musk and others need to see for the Hyperloop to actually function. Instead, there are a few possible ways to power a Hyperloop capsule in theory.

The Hyperloop capsule represents something like a cross between the pneumatic tubes found at banks and hospitals today (and which once crossed miles of cities decades ago) and a maglev train. Determining exactly how much power a Hyperloop would require is tricky at this stage but it’s also an important issue. One of the reasons that some previously new transportation ideas, like hovercraft, have never really gotten off the ground is their massive energy requirements.

So how much energy would be needed to “shoot” a Hyperloop canister along the tube? The proposal from Musk originally envisioned a constant energy source in the form of a compressor rather than simple impulse acceleration (like a bullet). It's not totally clear if the new test tracks will deviate from the original proposal or not, but assuming that the designers stick to roughly what Musk originally proposed, a 436 hp (325 kW) capsule motor would be required.

For comparison, trains’ locomotives frequently have around 4,000 horsepower, while a typical car often has around 150 hp. The biggest challenge here is how much friction the system will face from the air around it. In particular, the system needs to produce a large enough pressure in order to move the capsule along the track. The math behind the mechanics of moving the tube is a little complex, but a back of the envelope calculation based on Force, Pressure, Area and Ideal Gas law calculations suggest Musk’s estimates are reasonable. (For those interested, a good overview of the relevant mechanics properties are here).

Overall, the Hyperloop would use perhaps as little as 27 kW of power per passenger (assuming a very conservative 6 passengers per tube and a 30 minute travel time on the trip). The power requirement increases if the tube size increases of course, but on a per passenger basis that is relatively irrelevant. Essentially the math here suggests that a Hyperloop tube could move passengers for as little as a few dollars each in energy. The real issue that will determine feasibility then is the capital expenditure cost for the Hyperloop. More on that in a future article.

Dr. Michael McDonald is an assistant professor of finance at Fairfield University and a frequent consultant to companies regarding capital structure decisions and investments.

Article Source: http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Elon-Musks-Hyperloop-Takes-a-Step-Forward.html



It is a really interesting concept. The largest hurdle to advancing technology for the benefit of mankind however is always the current political and media climate which is controlled by wealthy interests who seek to maintain their profits. This can happen because in democratic system the majority of voters are ignorant of technology and how they are manipulated by media and the politicians. I hope this goes forward, but I suspect it will face many hurdles and most will not be technical. It amazes me that wealthy people are incapable of thinking of themselves as humans with a common connection to the people. Also, that they don't never have the money to satisfy their thirst for wealth. It must be a particularly painful sort of insanity that has them be as cruel as they are while simultaneously having won the game they play. The banking industry is particularly confusing on that basis.


Nonsense. When those who can't, teach, and when the same old lessons no longer inspire students, nonsense is taught to those too stupefied to not believe it. Hyperloop is nothing more than mental masturbation.


We put a man on the moon. Hyperloop, piece of cake. And what do you have against masturbation?


There is a huge disconnect between the American voters, i.e., the middle-class, and the 1% that run the country. All we have is the vote and the power to determine where to spend our money. But, As you say the 1% directs the voters with propaganda from a controlled media.

However, It is interesting to watch a politician break away from the 1%. Take Jerry Brown for example. He has declared his last hurrah and is pushing the High Speed Rail project against all the pressures the airlines, railroads, Republicans and other special interest can muster. In fact, the project is actually starting to build the infrastructure.
It's too bad He isn't building a hyperloop. But, at least hes building something.

Henry Gibson

The technology of the SkyTran is much easier and cheaper to implement and much slower, but comes closer to the people and places of work. It can use and does not need to use passive low-cost magnetic suspension.

The principle of a magnetically suspended train in a tube was once proposed decades ago by Werner Von Braun and it did not and does not require super conductivity. The main issue and cost of time of travel is waiting and local transport. Air resistance is the main cost of travel on motorways.

There are many ways to inductively accelerate vehicles and to supply power to them.

NASA should build a glass vacuum tube model using SkyTran suspension and about fifty feet in diameter. Eventually it could be powered by an internal isotope generator Stirling generator and suspended in the Space Museum where it could run unattended for a hundred years or more. Talk about sustainability?. Have you heard of the bicycle lighting generator that does not touch the wheel or rim..HG..


Going to the moon and to Mars will cost $100+B (in current $$$) and Americans paid for it with very little consultation and very little direct benefits.

Why should a short 300 miles Loop Link could not be financed by the American people. Printing another $25B to $50B for the project should not be a major challenge.


Hyperloop may be good for freight, but it remains to be seen if people want to accelerate in a dark tube for hours.

Dr. Strange Love

In the future, the majority of people will work from home or not at all. All Social and Business meetings will be virtual. They will have no need to travel. Regular and Outlet Malls as we know them will disappear. Technology will become boring. This idea is dead.


Goods still have to get from A to B, the idea of drones setting down on your front lawn is lunacy.

Dr. Strange Love

It's a DisneyLand project. Earth is an irregular place. It makes sense that freight and package delivery will travel as slow as possible on wheels over train tracks, roads. Planes too. All Soft-Service related industries (Technology, Consulation, Doctors Consults) will be done virtually. There is no reason to leave the house unless your job is in a Hard-Service industry (Manu, HW Repair, Contruction) or if you prefer to grocery shop at Costco like I do. Food delivery will soon become more mainstream.

More and more, packages for my wife show up at our house in a rural piece of NoVa. Five years ago I would scratch my head, then pester my wife about this trying so hard to believe that she had an addiction and we would go broke. It didn't happen. It made sense. The things she normally consumed, care products and clothing she found as cheap or cheaper OnLine-Delivered. Everything now, with exception of food, is available at comparable prices delivered. Most things you don't need right-away. You can wait.

I wish folks would hate to travel as much as I do, unless it makes sense for you to go somewhere else other than home to get your adrenaline rush or whatever. (A week long field trip this past summer at Parris Island South Carolina as a parent chaperone for High School Navy ROTC cadets was an adrenaline rush. I survived with a few nicks and bruises.)

I beginning to like Henrik's idea of the dispatched on-demand LDV taxi service transport, that big idea he has.


Heavy loads can travel by train. Speed is rarely an issue for them, except in time of war.
The key is a network. Autonomous Uber type cars for the "last mile" and first mile. Skytrain type automated taxies for local travel networks, and higher-speed (100 MPH) Skytran type transport for closer inter-city, like up to 300 miles. That would get you LA to Las Vegas in less than 3 hours will little or no wait on either end whereas Hyperloop, like Air would take 1 hr to the port, 2 hrs wait/security, 20 minutes travel, and another 1/2 hour to the final destination.
Air, or perhaps Hyperloop for transcontinental travel. Both, as far as I can tell still require the amassing of a large group of people who want to travel from one point to another.


Better communication technologies have not reduced travels yet as claimed 15+ years ago?

More and more people travel more and more because they need or simply like it. That will not change much in the next 10 to 50 years.


In Southern California, goods need to go from San Pedro and Long Beach to warehouses in Ontario to dozens of destination locations. Unless they invent the transporter beam, something has to move those goods.

Dr. Strange Love

It was invented long ago ... road, rail, sea and air transport.

The tube is novelty.


Road travel from Long Beach to Ontario is massively congested, there is no rail and the air quality is poor with rising fuel prices. The element of speed means through put, a rail gun shooting freight inland could be a winner.

Dr. Strange Love

EE Econ 101: It does not make economic sense.


Where did you get your Economics degree? I know where I got mine.


It won't work because if there is no air in the tunnel then the electric motors won't be able to cool down. This is another criminal bubble from mister mars.


Consider basic economic systems in 5 scales:
(Local, Regional, State, National, Global).
Place Local and Global economies on the extreme ends of a Bell Curve. The 'many' Local economies are too small to take advantage of mass production, thus inefficient. The 'single' Global economy loses the gains of mass production in the costs of long-distance transport, likewise inefficient. The most efficient economy - highest on the bell curve - are Regional economies (consisting of local economies within metropolitan regions) supported by State and National economies.

The global economy is like the automobile. Just as dependence upon automobiles becomes an extreme impediment to all fundamental modes of urban/suburban travel - walking, mass transit, bicycling AND the optimal function of motor vehicles - so too, the global economy undermines all lesser scales of economy.

A functioning hyperloop system CANNOT serve the real need nor build the scale of economy that isn't dependent upon long-distance travel and transport.
The Hyperloop is sheer nonsense.


To those who think Hyperloop makes sense, I recommend the Fox network new show "Minority Report" for its take on future technology. In the 3rd episode, a maniacal motorist unplugs the autonomous control and recklessly drives into oncoming traffic just to watch cars jolt out of his way. When his dash monitor displayed a security officer declaring him a public threat, autonomous control reset, and his apprehension immiment, he felt his rights were violated.

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