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Clean Transport

Denmark’s Potential Role In Nordic Hyperloop Solutions

Jesper Østergaard of 4-Leaf consulting in Denmark, whom I have talked sustainable transport with occasionally, has started focusing on how the Hyperloop technology could be applicable for Denmark and connecting Copenhagen better to the capitals in the Nordics and with continental Europe. The idea came to him at a point where the discussion of the so-called Kattegat-connection had been going on for so long that new ideas might be helpful. So, a new organization was formed — to help spread the word on Hyperloop in Denmark. The discussion has been going on in Norway and Sweden for a few years, but in Denmark it seemed to have passed by without notice to many people.

Now, before I present Jesper Østergaard’s view of Hyperloop and how it might be used in Denmark and the Nordics, here’s a map of our small country with the proposed new Kattegat-connection in red. Connections being built right now are in yellow, and existing connections are in green. Current connections are combinations of bridges and tunnels for vehicles and trains.

Google Maps screenshot with my markings

The proposed Kattegat-connection based on vehicles and trains has a construction cost of at minimum 110 billion DKK ($15 billion).

The following is Mr. Østergaard’s writing as presented in the outlet Ingeniøren:

Hyperloop — Futuristic & Emission-free

While discussing how to transition to more sustainable transport globally with cars, trucks, planes, and boats, development continues on a new form of transport: Hyperloop. The EU Commission has already supported Hyperloop initiatives with the grant for establishing the European Hyperloop Centre and they have now also announced, in their work program for 2023, that they will present a proposal for a regulation for Hyperloop deployment. Following this is a recent tender where the EU Commission will fund programs to develop Hyperloop all the way up to TRL 9. A significant development for Hyperloop in Europe.

This news is being well received by the companies that develop the technologies behind Hyperloop. Some of the most important technology providers has announced that significant steps have been taken in the standardization work in a joint technical committee (JTC20), which is the standardization committee with players from the industry such as Hardt Hyperloop, Transpod, Hyperloop TT, and Virgin Hyperloop (Which apparently has scrubbed this name, and joined forces with a name used earlier: Hyperloop One)

The development within Hyperloop — the emission-free form of transport of the future — is thus commencing these years and is taking place not least around Europe in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, France and others. However, Denmark lags. There’s probably lots of reasons for this, but let’s start with the beginning.

What Exactly Is Hyperloop?

Briefly, Hyperloop serves relatively small autonomous vehicles (called pods) that move in an almost airless tube on a magnetic track at high speed — up to 1,000 km/h (620 mph). This means that both friction between the pod and track as well as air resistance are almost eliminated, and when there is no friction and very little air resistance, the energy usage is also very little. In fact, the primary energy consumption comes from maintaining the tubes near vacuum (about 100 Pascal or about one-thousandth of atmospheric pressure). It is well known that when the speed of a vehicle increases, air resistance increases relatively more, and by far the most of the energy at high speeds is used to “move air.” But this is eliminated in the near-vacuum tube in the Hyperloop and the system is also not affected by weather conditions like rain, snow, high temperatures, etc.

We are dealing with a transport mode that is extremely energy efficient and can bring people and goods from A to B in a very short time. But beyond this, there is another characteristic that is essential and makes it interesting — the network effect. The fact that the system works with small autonomous pods means that you can travel to your final destination without changing or stopping at stations along the way. This means that the effective travel time is significantly reduced, competing with air travel measured in terms of travel time on short- and medium-haul flights.

Speed & Service Is Essential

With the network effect, there is also a significant service improvement in that we work with relatively small pods that takes 30 – 40 passengers. This means that in practice you can check in at the station/terminal and jump on the first pod that arrives, which departs when there is a suitable number on board and/or there is room in the system – e.g. every 5 minutes. Think of a TCP/IP network as an analogy for this. This represents a big advantage over conventional trains and planes, that must fit into transport channels and corridors, and aim to fill up the seats before departure and have to run towards timetable and not according to the actual transport needs. In terms of capacity, it corresponds to hourly operation with a train with approx. 400 passengers which has a significantly lower service and flexibility.

Is Hyperloop Safe?

A logical question to ask is obviously what it means for safety when you move at such a high speeds. First of all, it’s obvious that when you move in a closed system, as the hyperloop does, you have de-facto eliminated the dangers that arise in interaction with other road users. As opposed to e.g. self-driving cars, where unforeseen events in the form of crossing traffic, vehicles with lower speed, or vehicles making unexpected maneuvers are common. In a Hyperloop it is only the other pods in the system that must be taken into account. To some extent, this also applies in comparison with trains.
Another dimension of safety is that you are not sensitive to the weather. That is, whether the roads are slippery, rain or snow, or strong wind. Also, the risk of falling trees or stray animals is not an issue. Hyperloop is a closed system in every way, which makes it extremely safe.

Many other safety factors are to be taken into consideration, but these are all related to the Hyperloop system itself.

Image courtesy of Hardt Hyperloop

Is Hyperloop Practical For Mobility?

In practice, the characteristics of Hyperloop mentioned above offer some unusual possibilities, which are best illustrated by a few concrete examples.

Paris — Berlin

The first example — a journey between two European capitals — Paris to Berlin. The distance is approx. 900 km (560 miles), and can be covered by train in just over 8 hours — albeit with a stop along the way. But there is good news in this regard. Deutsche Bahn and the French SNTF have announced that a new high-speed rail connection will be put into operation at the end of 2023 and will shorten the journey so that the trip can be made in 7 hours in the future — i.e. an hour faster and without having to stop and switch trains along the way. It is a nice service improvement, but it’s still of less interest to business travelers who, for the most part, will probably be using airline transportation.

By plane, the trip can be made somewhat faster. The actual flight time is 1 hour and 45 minutes and to this must be added transport time to the airport, security and time to the gate and taxi of the plane. And this all happens at both ends which in any case cannot be done in less than an hour, whereby the total travel time — city center to city center — easily reaches +3 hours.

Transport with Hyperloop with a maximum speed of up to 1,000 km/h (620 mph) and a cruise speed of 600 km/h (370 mph) — the trip will be completed in approx. 1½ hours — city center to city center and without noise nor emission!

Copenhagen — Stockholm

At these latitudes, it will be interesting to connect the Nordic capitals with Hyperloop. The first route to focus on could be Copenhagen to Stockholm — not least after the new Swedish government seem to have canceled all plans for high-speed rail for now. Plans that has been on the table and for discussion over the last 10 years.

The travel distance is approx. 650 km (400 miles) and this can be made in approx. 5½ hours with the X2000 train line. The flight time is 70 minutes and if you add transport to and from airports, time through security etc., you can potentially get close to around 2½ hours effectively if the Arlanda airport express service is ready when you arrive.

With a cruise speed of 600 km/h (370 mph) with the Hyperloop, you will be able to cover the trip in just over an hour — city center to city center.

Try for a moment to consider the perspective for the mobility and interconnection of the Nordic capitals, if you could check in at a Hyperloop terminal in Copenhagen, get into a pod and an hour later get out in the center of Stockholm! The perspectives are quite compelling.

Denmark As Link To Continental Europe

The perspectives go beyond connecting the Nordic capitals. The next considerations are connections to continental Europe — a debate that is relevant with regard to the opening of the Fehmarn tunnel in 2029 (the yellow link on the map above). Should a Hyperloop connection to e.g. Hamburg go via Fehmarn or should it go via Funen and Jutland? The first alternative over Fehmarn will be the most direct and thus probably the cheapest, but it will disconnect Jutland/Funen in a completely different way than if the route crosses Funen and from there north to Aarhus and south to Hamburg.

The travel time for Copenhagen-Hamburg across Funen, a stretch of 470 km (290 miles), will be approx. 50 minutes with Hyperloop, and the Copenhagen-Aarhus route across Funen, a stretch of 300 km (185 miles), will take approx. 30 minutes with Hyperloop.

Mobility Across Denmark — The Kattegat-Connection

Enormous lobbying work has been going on over the last couple of years to get support to build what will be the largest and most expensive construction project in Danish history to date — a bridge connection across the Kattegat and Samsø (the red link on the map above) that will connect Copenhagen and Aarhus. The most important argument in this context is reduced travel time. The most optimistic calculations show that you will be able to get from Copenhagen to Aarhus in 1 hour and 8 minutes. However, this assumes that there are no stops along the way! The journey will theoretically be completed in approx. 2 hours, but since the bridge itself helps to increase the number of cars on an already busy road network, the real journey time will often be significantly longer. In other words, it is based on somewhat theoretical calculations, and the reality of the matter is whether the project is viable at all.

And as professor at the institute of economics at the University of Copenhagen, Mogens Fosgerau, has stated on several occasions, the financial calculations have not taken into account the costs of destroying the nature on Røsnæs, Samsø, and in East Jutland. That bill will remain unpaid.

The more obvious alternative is of course the Hyperloop. Not only will the travel time be less than half, but at the same time you will save large amounts of CO2, use significantly less land, avoid noise pollution and, last but not least, the business case for a Hyperloop project is expected to be significantly better. Domestic flights will be replaced by emission-free transport and with the connection to the European continent we will be able to reach not only the Nordic capitals easier but also get closer to Europe. The travel time from Aarhus-Hamburg as an example will be just 35 minutes with the Hyperloop!

Image (as well as featured image) courtesy of TransPod

With Hyperloop, travel times over long distances are measured in minutes and not in hours, which is why the Hyperloop is said to be and do for regions and countries what the metro is and does for cities.

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Written By

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.


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