Hyperloop | Current tunnelling technology will not generate necessary savings to reduce costs

Hyperloop

The “incremental changes” currently being made in tunnelling technology will not be enough to generate the reduction in costs needed to make hyperloop tunnels affordable, according to a new British Tunnelling Society (BTS) report.

The Hyperloop Challenge report – authored by tunnelling consultant Bill Grose – says the changes will continue to be made but more needs to be done.

“Current proven tunnelling technology will not in itself generate the savings that are necessary to meet the wished-for step change in tunnelling costs that is thought to be necessary to make hyperloop in tunnels economically viable,” the report says.

“There are incremental changes in tunnelling technology that are being made and will continue to be made but on their own they will not generate a significant step change reduction in tunnelling cost.”

The report emphasises that tunnelling cost is “significantly related” to the speed of tunnelling. As such, the research’s model tunnels have used advance rates which are in line with current tunnelling practice and “assume that excavation and lining take place in series”. However, Grose does identify some advances in technology which have not yet been widely used but “may enable lining and excavation to take place in parallel”.

Along with these cost considerations, the report summarises the requirements of hyperloop and provides an insight into the scientific principles and engineering challenges involved.

According to the research, hyperloop in tunnels will work through the creation of a vacuum within a tube inside the tunnel. In the future it may be possible for the tunnel to act as the tube but currently it is not feasible to “construct a tunnel lining as a safe and reliable large-scale vacuum tube that relies for its vacuum integrity on the ground and a lining constructed with current widely established civil engineering technology”.

The report also calls for the tunnelling industry to engage with the government to align the industry’s offering with societal needs.

It adds: “The industry through its learned societies needs to lead the engagement and needs to help to identify sources of funding for relatively low cost studies that will ultimately lead to the development of some of the ideas that have been noted in this report and to lead to the identification of other ideas and crossovers from other industries.”

Several firms have hit funding milestones for hyperloop projects in the last year. In June Spanish hyperloop firm Zeleros announced that it had raised over €7M (£6.2M) to develop its version of the technology, while April saw Hyper Poland raise over £436,000 (€500,000) in its UK equity crowdfunding campaign.

Meanwhile, a study undertaken by Dutch technology startup Hardt Hyperloop suggested that high-speed hyperloop technology could cut the journey time from Amsterdam to Paris to 90 minutes.

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