Dubai’s Electric Hyperloop Project

Contributor

Samay Dadlani ‘24

Reimagining the future of transportation, the RTA (Roads and Transport Authority) is moving steps closer to launch the world’s first hyperloop in the Arabian city of Dubai. The principal motivation for this 22 billion USD project is to reduce travel-time for UAE (United Arab Emirates) commuters.

The hyperloop, formally known as The Virgin Hyperloop, is a quick and effortless mode of transportation which allows passengers to arrive at their destination in a jiffy. The typical driving time from the Emirate of Dubai to Abu Dhabi is approximately 1 hour, but the hyperloop can travel between the two in just 12 minutes while travelling at a top speed of 1,123 km/h.

Now the main question here is: how does this hyperloop function and generate such high speeds? The pod begins to accelerate progressively by the means of electric propulsion (generating thrust with the help of electrical energy). Subsequently, the pod floats along the track with the help of magnetic levitation. This process is known as “zero contact electromagnetism” and results in a long-distant and swift ride due to a lack of friction. Finally, the pods travel in a vacuum chamber, reducing air resistance and increasing speed.

The idea of the hyperloop was originally conceptualized by American business tycoon and entrepreneur, Elon Musk. The major intention to manufacture the hyperloop was to reduce road traffic and lessen travel time for passengers. There are several advantages to the community from this mode of transportation, but the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted stands out. In a news statement, DP World had mentioned, “In 2017 alone, international flights produced 946 million tons of carbon dioxide. If every passenger flight with a range of 310-930 miles was swapped with a hyperloop route, fossil fuel emissions would drop 58 percent.” The Virgin Hyperloop system under construction in Dubai is 100% electric; alongside that, the noise levels of the pods are much lower than other forms of transportation, allowing it to minimise noise pollution.

Critics of the hyperloop, however, question its extravagance. Though reducing the number of vehicles on the road is what all nations must strive for, large scale transportation projects work best with large groups of people. Hyperloop pods can carry between four and 24 people at one time, with large breaks in time between each departure. Contrast this with the 2017 CRH380D trains used in China and Sweden. Individual compartments can store between 16 and 90 people. And due to the nature of trains, many compartments are linked together. A CRH380D can store a max of 670 passengers while travelling at 400 kilometres per hour. This is a significantly slower speed, but from an environmental standpoint, the smaller number of trips total, the less energy wasted. A high-speed train on the same route would transfer thousands more people each day. Further, the price to construct such a project would be reduced without a vacuum chamber.

As well, though the hyperloop would be electric instead of diesel, the UAE gets its energy from oil. The hyperloop would still be a product of GHG emissions.

The hyperloop will provide a new form of transportation for the UAE. It is excellent that Dubai, and many other cities, are transitioning from car and plane dependency. However, if cities continue to make flashy projects that are resource-intensive and awfully expensive, instead of focusing on cheaper, more population-based projects the perils of climate change will only be half-addressed.

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