Caixin
Jul 20, 2018 06:12 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

U.S. Hyperloop Developers Tap Into China

The first prototype of the Hyperloop One pod, made by the Los Angeles-based company Virgin Hyperloop One, is seen in July 2017. Photo: VCG
The first prototype of the Hyperloop One pod, made by the Los Angeles-based company Virgin Hyperloop One, is seen in July 2017. Photo: VCG

* China is keen to develop cutting-edge technologies like hyperloop and participate in their commercialization as part of its broader effort to create more higher value-added products and services

* While U.S. hyperloop companies are gaining increasing footholds in the Chinese market, domestic players have also joined the race to build the world’s first commercially viable hyperloop network

(Beijing) — Two U.S. companies specializing in hyperloop, a futuristic transport technology using high-speed pods zipping through sealed tubes, have secured funding from Chinese sources to advance their high-cost development, the firms said Thursday.

Los Angeles-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) is set to build China’s first hyperloop system in Southwest China’s Guizhou province under an agreement with Chinese government-owned Tongren Transportation & Tourism Investment Group, according to a company announcement.

At the same time, Arrivo Corp., also based in Los Angeles, separately announced it has secured a $1 billion credit line from a subsidiary of state-owned China General Technology Group. Arrivo will make the credit available to developers of projects anywhere in the world using its technology, it said.

China is keen to develop cutting-edge technologies like hyperloop and participate in their commercialization as part of its broader effort to create more higher value-added products and services as it moves away from its traditional strength in low-margin manufacturing.

The hyperloop transport technology — proposed by U.S. tech billionaire Elon Musk, founder of the SpaceX space delivery firm and electric vehicle-maker Tesla — involves a system of passenger- or freight-bearing pods propelled at high speeds through sealed, near-vacuum tunnels.

In theory, airless hyperloop tunnels would allow pods to move with zero friction, allowing them to travel at speeds of over 700 mph. Existing prototypes are currently able to reach 240 mph, while the Shanghai Maglev, currently the world’s fastest commercial train, has a top speed of 267 mph. By comparison, most big commercial planes now have average cruising speeds of around 550 mph.

Arrivo, founded by former SpaceX engineer Brogan BamBrogan, has developed hyperloop paths “capable of 10 times the vehicle throughput of ordinary highways,” the company said in its statement. Arrivo did not reveal whether it was planning any infrastructure projects in China.

HTT’s China project, which will be developed in partnership with the local government of Tongren in Guizhou, will be 50% government-funded. HTT’s previous joint efforts with other governments, including Abu Dhabi and Ukraine, have proved hyperloop to be a “viable solution” for China’s large-scale urbanization, HTT CEO Dirk Ahlborn said.

Mountainous Guizhou was chosen because of its “unique topography,” which will “allow (HTT) to refine our various construction methods with our partners,” Ahlborn added. Guizhou, one of China’s poorest provinces, has in recent years attempted to revitalize its local economy through high-tech initiatives, including a drive to make the landlocked region a major big data hub.

While U.S. hyperloop companies are gaining increasing footholds in the Chinese market, domestic players have also joined the race to build the world’s first commercially viable hyperloop network, which could provide an even faster alternative to the country’s extensive high-speed rail system.

In August, state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. said it had begun working on what it described to local media as a “flying train,” capable of traveling at 4,000 kph — nearly double the speed of the now-retired supersonic Concorde passenger jets.

Contact reporter Teng Jing Xuan (jingxuanteng@caixin.com)

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