Until just four years ago, Juan Vicén, Daniel Orient and David Pistoni were three engineering students of the polytechnic university of Valencia full of restlessness and creativity but without a clear plan for the future. Winning an international contest organized by tycoon Elon Musk was the starting signal for the three friends, who from their own startup, today they compete in the race to build the train of the future. And not only that, but Zeleros, a company that was founded in November 2016, aims to cement the test track at the end of this year hyperloop longest in the world.
Orient, technological director of the company explains that he has always felt a "special attraction" towards the field of electric mobility. He was studying fourth year of aeronautical engineering when he saw the announcement of the Hyperloop Pod Competition, an event organized by the company SpaceX, by Elon Musk. He proposed to his companions to participate and in less than four months they created a train proposal of the future that not only took them to Texas, where the final phase was celebrated, but also they won the first prize in the categories of 'Best design' and ' Better propulsion subsystem. They did not expect to win. "In fact, I was telling my professor that he did not think a European university could win when they said my name over the loudspeaker," recalls Daniel Orient, who was the team's spokesman. "I got up by reflex, but I was in shock, and even more when they gave us the next prize, "he says.
Juan Vicén and David Pistoni, industrial engineers of 26 and 27 years, were also clear about their vocation since they were very young. "This competition made us realize that we loved developing our own things," explains Vicén, especially, "in a field where to be able to contribute value locally and globally, "he says. This is how Zeleros was born, one of the six companies in the world focused on the development of Hyperloop.
"We are one startup competing in a great league with great players, "says Pistoni, CEO of the company. "We assume that we must collaborate with other sectors, even with other Hyperloop companies that are technically competitive," explains the engineer. To move towards a compatible system and avoid the classic problems of the transport industry, such as the width of the railway tracks -in this case, the tubes-, the three founders of Zeleros promoted a standardization agreement with the European Commission which was signed in Brussels in 2018 together with three other companies: the Dutch HARDT Y DELFT, Y TransPod, Canadian company installed in France. Others, like the Americans, do not show proactive to work in the same direction. "We would like them to join, but we understand that they have their own strategy," says Vicén, the company's communications director.
Energy and economic savings as a differential proposal
Each research team works its own differential proposal. The Zeleros is based on creating an alternative to bulky Levitation trains from China and Japan, that work with magnets along the entire track. The three partners have found a way to simplify it by integrating all the technology into the train itself. "As the tube is made of steel, putting magnets only in the vehicle we can attract it to the ceiling and get it to levitate," explains Vicén.
This makes it possible to minimize costs per kilometer and make an economically viable proposal so that, beyond "making some short routes in rich areas, it can be a kind of high-speed metro line worldwide", Confides Pistoni. With this technology of levitation and another propulsion, Hyperloop speed will be around 1,000 kilometers per hour, similar to airplanes, but without CO emissionstwo, because it works with electric batteries. By eliminating air from the tube, "it could reduce around 30% of energy consumption", according to Vicén, "even more if we integrate flexible solar panels about him … and we're trying to get some collaborations for it, "he adds.
With this technology of levitation and another propulsion, Hyperloop speed will be around 1,000 kilometers per hour, similar to airplanes, but without CO emissionstwo, because it works with electric batteries
The founders of Zeleros assure that they are finishing the first phase, which consists of validating, designing, and developing the technology. During the second one they will test a prototype to scale in a real environment. For this they have obtained a five-year assignment in Sagunto, Valencia, where they will build a 2-kilometer track in a straight line: the largest to date. "There will be carried out the biggest challenge of the project, which is to demonstrate the operation of all integrated systems in a vehicle," explains Juan Vicén. The third phase will consist in building the technology in real size and launching it to the market. "We foresee that routes will be started between 2023 and 2024, first of merchandise and, later, of people, with a capacity of between 40 and 50 passengers," explains Vicén.
For this they need a lot of financing, something complicated in Spain, where "it's scary to bet on this type of project", lament the engineers. In spite of everything, the company has gathered about half a million euros so far and expects to close the next round of financing with close to four million. This money comes from research institutes such as the Polytechnic University of Valencia, the Polytechnic University of Madrid, IMDEA-Nanoscience and RENFE, European organizations such as Climate-KIC and Valencian investors such as Alberto Gutiérrez and Juan Roig, with its investment fund Capital Angels. Plug and Play, an investment fund of Silicon Valley, the Technological Institute of Energy (ITE) and private companies such as Nagares and Altran also collaborate. Zeleros has gone from being formed only by the three founders to having a staff of 15 people, apart from another 16 that work externally in companies with which they collaborate, such as Altran. "And we have about 14 job offers that will be progressively occupied," says the CEO.
Trips by a tube
"Hyperloop is a reality. It is no longer a matter of whether or not it is going to be done, but of when it is going to be done, "says David Pistoni. "Spain leads many things worldwide and this is an opportunity to continue being leaders in what is going to be a reference industry in transport soon," he says, with the feet on the ground. to develop, "but we know it is possible and that it is a question of patience and hard work," says the CEO, comparing the situation with the first plane built by the Wright brothers: "Nobody was going to believe they could have it in a week, but in the long term they did it, "he concludes.
The young engineers believe that Hyperloop will have applications for other fields, "and we will also explore them," predicts Juan Vicén, but they hope to dedicate themselves to the development of this means of transport for many years. "Although it is a difficult project, we are proud of what we are achieving," says Pistoni, who acknowledges having found the perfect balance between the two fields that have always fascinated him: "We work with technology, but very at the forefront. we find ourselves, the key and what makes the difference are the people ".
Hyperloop is not a company. It has no owner or a single creator. It is a 200-year-old futuristic travel concept stoked by Elon Musk, who has recently given him fame and a commercial name. It was a traffic jam on a highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco that ignited the tycoon's concern to return to the concept of a means of land transportation to the void. Take it back, because the idea is not -only- yours.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the English inventor George Medhurst proposed to put vehicles in vacuum tunnels for the aerodynamic losses that friction entails. The Russian professor Boris Weinberg, a century later, already studied magnetic laws to levitate capsules inside a tunnel. Now, some companies and universities around the world base their research on these ideas. Even though hyperloop was born as a registered trademark of SpaceX, Musk's company, "it has become a common word that we write with lowercase letters and that dictionaries will soon register, because it will be a means of transport, such as the car or the airplane," says David Pistoni , CEO of Zeleros.