Magplane Technology for Freight and People

This article catches us up on developments in China on Maglev technology. Maglev has always been a promising exotic that has been forced to follow the path of slow development. The sheer weight of capital requirements makes it that way. Imagine Space exploration without a government crash program. We are still dining on the rewards of that crash program.

I used to explain to those who could not understand that the USA had failed to land a single dollar bill on the moon, unlike Vietnam and Iraq for that matter.

I have also posted on the prospects of putting rail freight on air pads. This is a similar problem but has the advantage of not needing a dedicated rail bed if done right.

In the event we have a concerted costing effort making maglev technology completely competitive with truck transportation for what appears to be dedicated tasks such as bulk haulage. This is an optimal solution not likely to be replicated in real life.

However, once any commercial solutions are implemented, the cost of additional build outs will drop and may make the technology competitive. I think air pads could do it faster and easier and certainly cheaper, but it may turn out that in the end that Maglev is the superior solution and will in time meet the price points.

The joint venture in China is developing a facility to produce up to 100km/year of MagPipe. The pipe maglev coal transportation system is trying to get all costs over 40% lower than truck transportation.
Magplane Proposed Transportation for Passengers

The vehicles are supported resiliently on a magnetic cushion, and are free to roll ten degrees in either direction from the bank angle of the magway. This enables them to negotiate horizontal curves of 2 km radius at 360 km/h with airplane comfort. Coordinated self-banking also permits vehicles to negotiate vertical curves typical of highway alignments without passenger discomfort by a "chandelle" type of maneuver in which negative vertical gee-forces are canceled by horizontal curvature. The maximum size vehicle weighs 45 tonnes gross, and carries 175 passengers, three and two abreast. Minimum headway at 500 km/h is 20 seconds, which permits a maximum single vehicle operation capacity of 25,000 seats/hour in each direction, as compared to about 10,000 for light rail and about 3,000 for a highway lane. With headways of 60 seconds in keeping with current state-of-the-art automatic controllers, three coupled intercity vehicles would be used to achieve the 25,000 seats/hour intercity capacity.

Levitation forces, guidance forces, and righting moments are exerted by currents induced in the magway surface by the motion of the vehicle magnets. Propulsion forces are produced by AC current in the guideway propulsion windings which generate a traveling wave. The vehicle rides this wave like a surfboard. Wayside power conditioning units spaced at 2 km intervals, synchronize the traveling wave with the vehicle, and generate active damping forces on the basis of position and acceleration information transmitted from vehicle sensors. Vehicles can leave and re-enter the magway at full speed to stop at off-line magports. The Magplane system thus achieves continuous traffic flow similar to highways, rather than the batch flow process of railroads with on-line stations.

Because magways carry only vehicles with low footprint pressure they can be significantly lighter and less expensive to build and maintain than railroad tracks. They need to carry only 1/20th the live load and provide 1/10th the wayside power (6 MW instead of 60), and can be compatible with the curves, grades, overpass, and right-of-way requirements of highways. Because of the large clearances possible with the Magplane concept, magways do not require high stiffness and accuracy of alignment or of banking.

China Will Be Testing Two Maglev Systems to Transport Freight: Up to Three Times Cheaper than Trucks or Rail

China is installing two prototype magnetically levitated (maglev) systems for transporting coal in Inner Mongolia in an attempt to increase transport speeds and efficiencies, and to reduce pollution.

Cost studies show $0.13 to 0.017 per ton-mile depending upon the length of magnetic pipe. Rail and truck costs are in the $0.35 to 0.05 per ton-mile cost range.

The first system is being co-developed by the Chinese motor manufacturer Harbin Electric and a domestic Maglev (magnetic levitation) technology specialist. The first phase of the project – to build a 850m-long linear motor-driven freight test track at a coal mine – is already underway.

Once the test track has been validated, the project is expected to expand to a 32km-long coal transportation line in Inner Mongolia, with Harbin providing the linear motor drive systems.

The second maglev system is being developed by a joint venture between US-based Magplane Technology, and Chinese partners. This will use a tubular maglev system called MagPipes to move coal from Mongolian mines. A 32-acre (12.9ha) facility (shown above) is being built at Baotou in Inner Mongolia, which will be able to build up 200km of MagPipes a year. Production of components has been sub-contracted to Chinese suppliers.

Magplane Magpipes

Magplane Technology designs and fabricates pipeline transport systems using the linear synchronous motor technology developed for the Magplane system. Typical applications for pipeline transport range from priority mail packages to ore transport. A typical ore application would have an underground pair of 60 cm diameter pipes for outbound and returning capsules, and typically carry 10 millions tons per year over a distance of 50 km.

  Electromagnetic drives for pipeline systems are intended to replace pneumatic capsules. Pneumatic capsule pipelines have a long history, and there are several large scale systems in current use. Conventional pneumatic systems use external blowers to move the column of air together with the capsules in the pipe. Full-diameter valves are used to control the injection, removal and subsequent return of capsules. Various practical limits constrain the throughput of these systems and limit their cost effectiveness.

A demonstration project which uses a linear synchronous motor to move vehicles has been constructed at the IMC-Agrico Company in Lakeland, FL. The demonstration utilizes 200 m of 60 cm diameter cylindrical cast "waste water" fiberglass tube, and includes a 60 m long accelerator/decelerator section, a switch, and load and unload stations. The test vehicle traverses back and forth at a peak speed of 65 km/hr. The 1.8 m long wheelbase vehicle uses six-wheel assemblies at each end of a rotating hopper, and has a payload capacity of 270 kg. The vehicle carries an array of neodymium-iron boron permanent magnets which interact with the linear motor mounted on the outside of the tube to provide propulsion, and with external coils to provide an electromagnetic switch function.

A 15 page pdf "Capsule Pipeline Transport Using An Electromagnetic Drive"

Truck and Rail Freight Statistics Updated

Treehugger reports on the latest efforts to increase the efficiency of rail and truck freight transportation costs.

State-of-the-art trucks can begin to approach the ton-miles per gallon of trains (350+ ton-miles for trucks vs. 400 to 450 ton-miles for rail).

RMI's [Rocky Mountain Institute - energy efficiency evangilists] 2008 peer-reviewed analysis, based on tested science, found a combination of improved aerodynamics, low rolling resisitance tires, and more efficient engines could more than double the ton-mileage of the average class 8 truck from 130 ton-mile per gallon to 275 ton-mile/gallon.

This is mostly theoretical improvements which have not been implemented even in a real life test trial.

Air 82 cents per ton mile
Truck 26 cents per ton mile
Rail 2.9 cents per ton mile
Barge 0.72 cents per ton mile (2001)
Pipeline 1.49 cents per ton mile (2001)

Magnetic pipelines on a large scale seem to approach the cost of shipping oil via pipeline.
Magnetic pipelines would have lower external costs as well as lower energy costs. Only barges would have lower costs. Barges have more pollution and barges need to have a sufficiently deep waterway to allow for transportation. The magnetic pipeline is faster than a barge.

2008 Canadian Railway study of rail trends. (38 page pdf)
Energy use by mode of freight transportation according to the CBO (Congressional Budget Office.)

Oil pipelines use only 500 BTUs (British Thermal Units) per ton-mile (280 ton-miles per gallon of diesel fuel), but they are limited by their very specialized function. The efficiency of inland barges (990 BTUs per ton-mile or 140 ton-miles per gallon on average), is likewise offset by the roundaboutness or circuity of most rivers. Also, significant amounts of energy may be required to bring cargo to a waterway system: grain and other farm products are sometimes trucked 200 miles to a river, increasing energy use per ton-mile by 50 percent or more.

The efficiency of rail transportation varies considerably depending on the commodity and the level of service provided; at one extreme, unit trains designed to carry only coal typically require less than 900 BTUs per ton-mile of cargo (155 ton-miles per gallon), while at the other extreme high-speed short trailer-on-flat-car (TOFC) trains use about 2,000 BTUs per ton-mile of cargo (68 ton-miles per gallon).
Intercity trucks require on average about 3,400 BTUs per ton-mile of cargo (41 ton-miles per gallon), twice the rail average and 1.7 times that for rail TOFC. It is not surprising that trucks require more energy since they provide a generally higher level of service than rail.

An even higher level of service, and hence greater energy need, is characteristic of air freight. In planes devoted to air freight, over 28,000 BTUs per ton-mile of cargo may be required (5 ton-miles per gallon), although freight carried in the belly of a passenger plane may require only 3,900 BTUs per ton-mile of cargo (35 ton-miles per gallon).

A specialized new mode of freight transportation is the coal slurry pipeline; this appears to require about 1,270 BTUs per ton-mile of coal--although this conclusion is based largely on engineering studies

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