The Hyperloop is For Real

Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram

Envisioning a high-speed, enclosed transit tube — or energy generated from objects floating in our oceans — sounds like something out of a wildly imaginative sci-fi book from decades ago. These are inventions we dreamed would predicate the world of the new millennium, but which many of us probably never thought would come to fruition in our lifetime. Well, here we are, in 2016, and companies are mapping out (and constructing) real ideas for the Hyperloop and floating wind turbines. Things long deemed “futuristic technologies” are now real possibilities.

Let’s begin with the Hyperloop, which surprisingly has a track record longer than a DC-20 aircraft. Renderings of a like-minded system date back to as early as the 1930s. It appeared in science fiction works multiple times in the 20th century. ‘The Jetsons’ conveyed Hanna-Barbera’s vision of the concept from 1962-1987. Jules Verne’s son Michel envisioned a precursor to it in 1888. And, as Chris Anderson wrote on Business Insider’s website a few years back, the traceable origin is as early as 1812 (?!) , when George Medhurst published a document inferring the “Practicality, Effects and Advantages” of a tube 30 feet in elevation, propelled by air, designed to transport both people and products.

But the true pioneer of the idea is Elon Musk, the electric motor vehicle visionary, who first pitched it in 2012. During his preliminary talks, Musk offered options for economic viability and conceptualization. His white paper a year later introduced detailed specifications. Now, not even three years later, transportation technology companies are drawing official blueprints. As Alex Davies of WIRED magazine writes, the locale is highly unexpected. Slovakia, of all places, may be the most ideally fitted for the Hyperloop’s inaugural trial.

“Hyperloop Transportation Technologies isn’t your typical tech startup. It has just two full-time employees,” says Davies. “The real work is done by more than 500 engineers with day jobs at places like NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX. They spend their free time working on the Hyperloop in exchange for stock options because they get to work on something that could genuinely revolutionize transportation.” And they appear poised to begin; reportedly on the verge of receiving $9.2 million in funds from the state of Nevada. With a Hyperloop, many commuters could certainly bypass technical difficulties like those in the Washington, D.C. Metro last week…

On to the second act. Offshore wind turbine construction has been a topic of conversation among wind power pundits since 2001, but wasn’t actually installed anywhere until recently. In Aberdeen, Scotland, construction has begun onshore for the Hywind Pilot Park, commissioned by Norwegian company Statoil. The 30 MW pilot project will consist of five, 6 MW floating turbines operating in waters exceeding 100 meters of depth. A successful trial project was studied off the coast of Norway and completed last November. Capital cost is less, but cost of infrastructure has to be factored in (for longer, expensive underwater cables). It is also advantageous that the turbines can be constructed onshore; which is much safer and less risky for loss or damage of equipment.

Other benefits to offshore wind power are documented in a presentation by Paul D. Sclavounos, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. In an ironically exhausting bullet point, Sclavounos touts offshore wind as a “rapidly growing, free, inexhaustible, environmentally friendly, utility scale and cost effective energy source.” This adds up with wind power research elsewhere – additionally referencing the vastness of offshore wind resources with higher and steadier speeds; the fact that 75% of worldwide power demand comes from coastal areas; the potential for longer wind farm life of 25-30 years when constructed offshore; and the potential integration of oil industry professionals to create more jobs, due to their experience in the offshore environment.

Who will be first out of the gate for American offshore wind construction? Oh, wait, GE is already there, as they announced Wednesday.

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