Company says it is on track to take cargo by the end of 2022 and people by 2027
Visitors at Expo 2020 Dubai crowd around a Hyperloop model created by Zeleros, a Spanish start-up. All pictures: Antonie Robertson / The National
Spanish start-up Zeleros said it would have a working prototype of a hyperloop ready to carry cargo in the port of Valencia by the end of next year.
Juan Vicen, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Zeleros, told The National the company was also working on passenger pods that will carry between 50 to 200 passengers. The technology to test with passengers will be ready by 2027.
The company displayed a model of their hyperloop at the Spanish pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai for the first time on Tuesday.
“It will not be for passengers in the first test, as we want to ensure we can achieve reasonable speeds of 600kph,” Mr Vicen said.
“We have a project with the Port of Valencia to do a 100-metre demonstrator, a pilot. This is already ongoing and by next year, by Q3 – Q4, we will be able to see this prototype working.
“For passengers we are talking about 2025 to 2027. This we consider reasonable in terms of safety to test passengers inside at higher speeds.”
The first capsule to be tested will carry about 300 kilograms to 2 tonnes of materials at the eastern Spanish port, which is the busiest in the Mediterranean Sea.
Electromagnets on board
Most hyperloop systems use magnets to levitate pods inside airless vacuum tubes. The low pressure creates the conditions to propel people or products at speeds of up to 1,000kph.
Zeleros became the latest company to join the race when it unveiled ambitions in 2019 to connect the world with a hyperloop travel system.
While other companies rely on the track or tube powering the pods, the Zeleros technology is based on all-electric pods that power themselves.
Zeleros, a Spanish start-up, displays a model of its hyperloop below ground level at the Spanish pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Photo: Antonie Robertson / The National
“We are kind of doing an electric aircraft inside a tube, without wings,” Mr Vicen said.
“This is different from other technologies. They are trying to create a space shuttle inside a tube with low pressure levels.
“Basically, the technology we developed at Zeleros is included in the vehicle. Other technologies, they need to have electro magnets all over the track from start to the finish.
"In our case we reduce the cost of infrastructure by having electromagnets onboard the vehicle, instead of all across the track.”
There are at least six private companies developing hyperloop technology.
Virgin Hyperloop successfully completed a passenger test in November last year, and has attracted commercial interest in the US, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
DP World, the largest shareholder in the US-based Virgin Hyperloop, plans to use the system to carry cargo.
Development of a hyperloop costs billions of dollars but Zeleros has so far raised only €10 million ($11.5m).
Mr Vicen said it was looking for further investment, and the company's patented technology that powers the pods will cut infrastructure expenditure.
“The main cost is the infrastructure,” he said.
Visitors getting a close-up view of the hyperloop model displayed by Zeleros at the Spain pavilion. Antonie Robertson / The National
“Usually the other systems have a very complex infrastructure that pushes the vehicle. In our case we use an electric compressor similar to aviation but without combustion.
“We move a turbine in the front of the vehicle and we have the technology inside, so we reduce the cost of infrastructure.”
The on-board propulsion works like an electrical-aircraft inspired drive, which will propel the pod for most of the route.
The system includes a compressor and an electric motor fed by an on-board energy storage system.
Zeleros is testing all its systems – from levitation, propulsion, braking and energy storage to power electronics – in the laboratory.
There are plans to test the pods at another 4km test track at speeds of 600km per hour being built in Spain.
The end goal is for same day delivery of goods between cities with zero direct emission on pods that carry up to 50 tonnes of goods.
There has been rising interest in the hyperloop, as governments look to reduce travel time between cities. Using the technology the commute between Dubai and Abu Dhabi could be cut to 15 minutes and Jeddah to Riyadh to one hour.
The company considers hyperloops to be most attractive to countries with dense populations.
A Zeleros global study for 2050 and beyond envisions a hyperloop stretching more than 4,500km connecting 15 cities in the Middle East from Muscat, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha in the east moving to Kuwait in the north, across to Riyadh and onto Mecca and Jeddah in the west.
The report released last month speaks of supporting travel of 75 million passengers every year and carrying 1.5 million tonnes of freight annually in the Middle East.
“India, the Middle East and also China are some of the most interesting markets for the hyperloop because these are countries investing in new mobility services," Mr Vicen said.