TechWatch – VacMaglev train

Posted in Sustainable development, Transportation by ths1104 on 21/05/2011


The VacMagLev train is a as-yet-unbuilt Maglev train circulating in vacuum tubes.

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  • No friction between the trains and the tracks (magnetic levitation)
  • No air drag (vacuum)
  • > High speed: up to 20,000 km/h [?] (no penalty of sonic boom)
  • > Low operating cost (energy costs to move the train, maintain the vacuum, cool and power the magnets are low compared to energy costs of conventional trains [1]) ?
  • Low greenhouse gases emissions (electric)
  • Possibility of regenerative breaking
  • Possibility of automation
  • Quiet operation (vacuum)
  • Safe


  • High construction cost. For partial-vaccum tunnels, it costs US$2.95 million/km more than target Maglev lines price in China (US$24.6 million), or 12% of increase [6,7].
  • High centripetal forces if bended tubes ? (problem is inherent to any mode of transportation)


  • A laboratory at Southwest Jiaotong University, Sichuan, China, is working on a prototype with an average speed of 500 to 600 km/h running in partial-vacuum tunnels [5].
  • Suissmetro proposed to connect in Swiss cities with a VacMaglev running in partial-vacuum tunnels at up to 600 km/h [2].
  • F. P. Davidson and Y. Kyonati have proposed a VacMaglev transoceanic line using a tube floating 300 m below the ocean surface and anchored with cables, allowing to go from New York to London in less than one hour [3].
  • Dr. J. Powell has since 2001 led investigation of a concept using a VacMaglev system for space launch [4].


  • ” Establishing a Small-Diameter Vacuum-Enhanced MagLev (SDVEML) system would allow for virtually limitless transportation of materials, at significantly lower costs.” – D. Wade,  the Buckminster Fuller Challenge 2011, website.
  • “Passengers […] having paid $54 [can] travel in 54 minutes from the centre of New York to the centre of Los Angeles – R. M. Salter,  Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1978, link.
  • “The new technology […] is expected to be put into operation after ten years.” – Z. Yaoping,  academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering, [5].
  • “Speed in initial ET3 systems is 600km/h for in state trips, and will be developed to 6,500 km/h for international travel that will allow passenger or cargo travel from New York to Beijing in 2 hours.” – ET3, website.
  • “ET3 can be built for 1/10th the cost of High Speed Rail, or 1/4th the cost of a freeway.” – ET3, website.
  • “ET3 can provide 50 times more transportation per kWh than electric cars or trains.” – ET3, website.
  • “Vactrains could use gravity to assist their acceleration.” – R. Salter, LA Times, 06/11/1972.
  •  “The theoretical limit of the speed of the VacMaglev train is up to 20,000 km/h.” – Z. Yaoping ?
  • “In peak hours, a Swissmetro runs every 6 minutes with speeds up to 500km/h […].” – Suissmetro, website.


[1] Comparison between conventional train and vacmaglev train, ET3 website
[2] Suissmetro website
[3] Transatlantic Tunnel, Extreme Engineering. (video)
[4] Startram project website
[5] “China develops record-breaking 600kph maglev trains“, Q. Li,, 08/02/2010
[6] “Laboratory working on train to run at 1,000kph“,, 08/03/2010
[7]”Shanghai maglev gets official approval“, M. Qing, China Daily, 04/27/2006


Leave the cowpats be

Posted in Electricity, Sustainable development by ths1104 on 08/09/2010

Train companies are fully envolved in our quest for alternative energy resources. Here comes what they have recently been testing: beef and wind.

The “beef train” is the first train that runs on biodiesel made from beef byproducts. It is operated between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, by Amtrak  as a 12-month experiment. The fuel is composed by 80% of diesel and 20% of biofuel. According to the company, its cuts both hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions by 10%,  particulates emissions by 15% and sulphates ones by 20% compared to standard diesel fuels [1].

The beef train, (CC) Sneebly/Flickr

The “wind train”, him, is the first 100% wind energy powered train. It was operated by MIR in August 2010 between Tokyo and Tsukuba. 276 MWh of electrical energy have been bought to operate MIR’s grid during this period [2]. Conclusion, greenhouse gases emissions have been cut by more than 90%. The exact calculation is quite complicated as the greenhouse gases emission per kWh of electrical energy produced depends on the country considered. But as Japanese average emission per kWh is pretty high, oil being there the primary source of energy [3], wind energy reduces significantly total emissions.

Tsukuba Express, (CC) MIR

In spite of huge efforts from the texan company, the “beef train” will certainly never equal the “wind train” in term of greenhouse gases emissions. If Amtrak really wants to run green, it should just buy an electric train and leave the cowpats be.


  1. Amtrak trials first cow-powered train“,
  2. 「TXエコトレイン」運行等を実施!“,
  3. Japan Energy Data, Statistics and Analysis“,

Bringing physics into massive colaborative science

Posted in Open Science, Sustainable development by ths1104 on 13/08/2010

Several months ago I tried to develop on this blog the idea of “Open Science”. In particular I underlined the fact that, to build an effective collaboration over the internet, we need new tools and guidelines [1]. The Open Science Summit 2010 seems to have speed up the whole process.

On the one hand, some days after the conference, a brainstorming about the definition of “Open Scientist” was lunched by Jessy Cowan-Sharp. The draft of the discussion is available for consultation and editable by everyone via EtherPad here [2].

On the other hand, Casey Stark @caseywstark and DJ Strouse @djstrouse lunched for the occasion, CoLab, a platform designed for open and massively collaborative science,

We want to make it stupid easy to center a discussion around protocols, data, plots, published papers, papers in progress, simulations, code, or any other component of scientific research, […] to import a published paper and collaboratively highlight and annotate (it) in-line, […] to host a working version of my paper online, collaboratively edit it […]. In short, as a scientist, I should be able to easily and openly discuss any piece of my science with my entire scientific community.

The three first issues discussed on Colab deal with social science (local optimal scientific research environment, social network for science) and mathematics (P != NP). Now I had like to see physics, chemistry and open hardware projects enter the arena. And especially projects linked with global issues like drinking water, malnutrition, diseases, safe housing, rural electrification, reduction of CO2 emissions and clean energy.

But how should we tackle this kind of problems ?

Consider an open problem and various way to address it : technology A, technology B, law C, etc. Now, should we focuse on technology A as it seems the most promising or to the contrary consider at the same time all the propositions ? If the last approach is workable for “non-material” Polymath Projects for example, is it realistic to lunch at the same time 20 different experiments to develop 20 competing technologies ? Who is going to finance it ? Theses questions should be considered carefully before proposing an issue to avoid having the project at a dead end after some discussions.

In practical terms, I would recommend to propose (at least at the begining) issues whose solutions can be formulated in theoretical terms or require only small investment. Ideally everyone, not only laboratories, should be able to set up the required device/experiment and work on it. Any ideas ?


  1. Open recherche (french)
  2. Moi quand j’serai grand, j’serai open scientist ! (french)
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