Optimism is putting a smile on the faces of Hardt‘s founders in Delft. This week they announced that they had once again managed to attract major investors. Including the renowned Tukker, technician and investor from the very outset in Booking.com. As well as Kees Koolen, one of the original investors in Uber. They are investing millions in the construction of a new, longer test track at an as yet undisclosed location in the Netherlands for the high speed suspended metro system – the Hyperloop. Within ten years, it should connect all the major European cities to each other. That means you could, for example, travel from Rotterdam to Milan in the blink of an eye.
But why Hardt instead of the competition?
The question is – why are they buying shares in Hardt’s hyperloop? And not in any of the other four hyperloop system developers that are currently out there? There is Zeleros in Spain (in Valencia) and Hyper Poland in Poland. You have HTT (Hyperloop Transportation Technologies) in the US, and Transpod, a Canadian-French company. Then there is Hyperloop One, a company that is also designing a hyperloop and has built a test track in the desert near Las Vegas with capital from the British Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson. Not that it matters at all, but Branson is rather more well-known than Kees Koolen from Hengelo. Though Hardt has the former professional football player Gregory Van der Wiel as an angel investor. He is world famous as well, albeit that Van der Wiel would rather stay in the background when it comes to this kind of thing, or so it seems. The key question is what distinguishes Hardt from these four hyperloop companies which all seem to be making good progress too. And are they rivals?
‘Lane Switching’ is the magic word
If you ask the investors in Hardt why, you always get the same answer: “Lane switching,” Anne Koolen says. In other words: the possibility to change the route of these magnetically-suspended capsules.
Koolen has a technical qualification and is spokesperson for her father Kees’s company Koolen Industries. The two of them assessed the potential for an investment in Hardt. “Hardt has been the only one of all those hyperloop developers who has shown that they have the technological know-how to do this.”
That’s what marketing manager Martijn Koerts at InnoEnergy (an investment company that invests money from the European Commission and from private investors in innovative, sustainable start-ups) says. “The most important thing about the lane switching technology is that you are able to plan several routes in a single tube which the hyperloop moves through.” You can use it to divert a hyperloop to a stop in a city between, say, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. If you didn’t have that lane-switching technology, you could only go from Amsterdam to Frankfurt. Therefore, a stop in for instance Cologne, a city of 1 million residents, wouldn’t be possible. “Because all the hyperloops that come afterwards will then have to wait until that one moves on. That takes too much time and is not what the intention is.”
‘Lots of carriages makes the Hyperloop affordable’
Without lane switching a hyperloop network would just not be affordable, says Jelte Altena, marketing manager at Hardt. “Then you would have to build separate tubes for the various stops and routes. This isn’t feasible because it takes up too much space on land. What’s more, it’s far too expensive. Those costs can’t be recouped. You have to make sure that enough carriages can glide through one tube, so that the construction costs for those carriages can be repaid.”
Regardless of how you look at it, if the European Commission, in consultation with the individual member states, decides to build a network of pipelines for the hyperloop, then Hardt’s lane switching technology will be indispensable. After all, what can’t be paid, can’t be built. It is that simple.
It’s not that the other hyperloop companies should pack up and dump everything just because they lack this lane-switching technology, according tto Altena. Hardt is currently discussing the standardization of hyperloop technology with the other four developers – including the American and Canadian developers – as part of a workgroup led by officials from the European Commission. Hardt took the initiative for this with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. Altena expects that at some point there will be a tender from the European Commission which the various companies can respond to. “It is conceivable that we might work on specific points in cooperation with each other. That we will form a consortium of companies where we would combine the necessary technologies together.”
Magnet in tube that diverts route can be switched on and off
The Hyperloop technology used by Hardt is based on a tube which is 3 meters in diameter. The carriage that glides through it is pulled by a magnet located at the top segment which it almost but not quite touches. There is therefore no contact at all with the tube walls. The tube itself uses vacuum pressure to move. This means that there is no resistance from air. As a result, the suspended metro can reach a speed of up to 1000 kilometers per hour using less energy than a train. The motor will be electric so there aren’t any CO2 emissions.
Switching lanes can be done at the junction by switching on the magnet in the segment of the tube that curves towards the other route and by switching off the magnet on the main route. This way the magnetic field draws the suspended metro into the other tube going in a different direction. “It sounds so simple,” says Altena. “But someone had to come up with that bright idea.”
Will we soon be living in Rotterdam and working in Paris?
According to Altena, passengers should be able to board the Hyperloop in 2028. He can’t say how much a ticket will cost. “If it turns out that the tube needs to have a larger diameter, this will affect the price. But we are already looking into what passengers are willing to pay for their daily commute using the various modes of transport that are currently available, such as airplanes or trains.
If the Hyperloop really does get going in 2028, that will drastically change work-related commutes. You will then be able to commute between Paris and Rotterdam, for example, in the time it now takes you to travel from Amsterdam to Rotterdam by train. You won’t have to move. “That’s exactly what we predict,” says Altena. And when seen from this perspective, the suspended metro should be packed.