In recent times, the technology of hyperloop has created quite a stir across North America, Europe, and the Middle East. The attention is now on China, as Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) inked a deal with the province of Guizhou to bring in the country’s first hyperloop track. Hyperloop, the brainchild of Elon Musk, is a revolutionary transportation technology where train pods travel within a vacuum tube at speeds close to 760 miles per hour (mph).
Though the potential of the technology is above question, the speed the pods can generate is still under contention. The initial pilot runs over limited distances have been far from what has been promised, with the recorded highest speed bordering at 300 mph - which incidentally happened yesterday at the SpaceX pod contest in Hawthorne, California.
HTT’s foray into China augments well for the country as it on an aggressive path to expand its transportation networks and bring down the costs related to freight hauling. Being a developing country, China spends about 15% of its GDP on logistics, which makes it inefficient compared to the West where the average stands at around 10-12% of the GDP. Hyperloop could be a way out, as it can transport goods at a fraction of the time taken by conventional road or rail transport and also does not cost a lot in the process.
Tongren in Guizhou, where the track is planned is big on tourism and HTT is planning a commercial track in the place, unlike most of its ongoing projects which are primarily test tracks. Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of HTT, explained that ten kilometers are being planned initially to comply with the certifications and regulations set in place at the local level, and hoped to see revenues flowing in soon.
The area of Tongren is mountainous, with the region given UNESCO World Heritage status as it is considered to be one of the five sacred Buddhist mountains in the country. Of late, the state of Guizhou has been pressing the gas on infrastructural development spending over $100 billion in the process, and is now home to the big A’s of technology - Amazon, Apple, and Alibaba.
HTT's idea is to connect Tongren with Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, which is about 250 miles away. Once completed, the hyperloop system would shorten the transit time from a one-hour flight to 20 minutes, drastically improving the state of freight and passenger movement.
“Regulations is the biggest hurdle when you are building a completely new technology. Some countries are a bit easier to deal with than others, [and] it is very important for us to deal with several countries,” said Ahlborn in an interview to CNBC. “You are not just depending on one [country] and China is definitely one of those countries that embrace new technologies, going after and facilitating them, and giving the support needed.”
HTT is looking to start construction later this year or earlier next year, in association with the Chinese railways, who would work on the initial land survey and assist with the design as they understand the terrain better. The Tongren venture is a public-private partnership with half the funds for the project coming in from the province. HTT plans to provide the engineering expertise and the equipment needed for taking the project forward, while the state would be securing certifications and ticking off required regulations.
This is the fourth major project for HTT, after having inked agreements with Abu Dhabi and Ukraine earlier this year. Construction is now underway on its 1000-feet long first track in Toulouse, France which Ahlborn described would also be featuring the world’s first hyperloop passenger capsule.
Stay up-to-date with the latest commentary and insights on FreightTech and the impact to the markets by subscribing.