Complex Made Simple

Hyperloop technology is sweeping the world. How about the MENA?

What is keeping Hyperloop technology from changing the way people and cargo are transported in the MENA?

The HyperPort system will allow port operators to transport cargo containers hundreds of kilometers in minutes Strategy& found that public transport accounts for just 17.5% of daily trips in Dubai The Virgin Hyperloop One system in Dubai is 100% electric

HyperloopTT recently announced that its HyperPort, developed in partnership with terminal operator Hamburg Hafen und Logistik AG, is going into certification design review.

The HyperPort is a “sustainable high-speed cargo and freight solution capable of increasing capacity and efficiency while decreasing pollution and congestion at ports worldwide,” a press statement from the company reveals. 

The global logistics industry is estimated to grow to $12 trillion by 2023, according to a report by Freight Waves.

The HyperPort system will allow port operators to transport cargo containers hundreds of kilometers in minutes. It will be capable of sustainably moving 2,800 containers per day at speeds of up 600 km/h, or “airplane speeds at freight costs,” HyperloopTT says in its press release.

Hyperloop TT can, thus, free up seaside real estate that would otherwise be used for shipping ports.

Back in 2018, HyperloopTT unveiled Quintero One, the first full-scale passenger hyperloop capsule, five years after the company was founded in 2013.

MENA infrastructure and consumer behavior shortcomings

Analysis from MAGNiTT found that 45 investment deals in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) took place in the delivery and transport sectors in 2019. 

Startups can be seen across a spectrum of activities, including rideshare services using scooters and buses, car purchasing and parking apps, freight and trucking services, and last-mile delivery logistics.

These efforts are being accompanied by large-scale, government-funded projects that are creating new roads, metro systems, and airports, as well as investments in areas like smart lighting and traffic management.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the MENA region still faces significant infrastructure shortcomings, including in transport, ICT, and energy. Data from the World Bank suggests that the region will require at least $100 billion annually over the next five to 10 years to build new infrastructure, as well as maintain aging systems.

Research by Strategy& found that public transport accounts for just 17.5% of daily trips in Dubai, approximately half this figure in Riyadh, 4.9% in Abu Dhabi, and an even smaller proportion in other major Gulf Cooperation Council (GGC) cities. This is compared to 59% in New York, 33% in Tokyo, and 37% in London.

Changing consumer behaviors, and encouraging greater take-up of public transport such as the new Metro systems Riyadh and Doha could prove particularly difficult, especially given the low cost of petrol, COVID-era social distancing requirements, and heat.

Qatar’s Public Works Authority, Ashghal, has taking upon itself to install 2,700 air-conditioned bus stops on all of the country’s major roads. 

Hyperloop technology in the MENA

The MENA region is also actively scoping out the use of Hyperloop technology. One company pioneering this new form of transportation is Virgin Hyperloop which opened its first overseas office in Dubai in 2017. 

Over in Saudi Arabia, Virgin Hyperloop is exploring the creation of a Hyperloop ‘Center of Excellence,’ which it estimates will generate $4 billion in GDP and create 124,000 high-tech jobs.

Jay Walder, chief executive officer at Virgin Hyperloop One, has proposed that Hyperloop technology will be 50% more energy-efficient than high-speed rail, and up to 10 times more than flying. “As a result, all Gulf cities could be less than an hour away from each other, powered by a zero-emission network that is energy neutral and could be completely unplugged from the grid in the Middle East,” he said.

According to the World Bank, an estimated 5.5% of GDP in MENA is lost annually due to poor roads and accidents.  

Strategy& estimates that sustainable mobility could unlock about $400 billion in economic value over the next 20 years in the GCC alone.  

Los Angeles-based Virgin Hyperloop is also exploring concepts in other countries, including a hypothetical 12 minute connection between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which takes more than an hour via existing public transport.

Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC) and Virgin Hyperloop (VH) have announced a collaboration on research, innovation and localisation of the futuristic transportation method.

 The Technology Innovation Institute (TII) — the applied research pillar of ATRC — and Virgin Hyperloop will explore research for hyperloop systems on the TII’s premises. These include pulsed power and magnetic levitation technologies and material sciences, which are key to developing the next-generation transport system.

The partnership not only creates an opportunity for a research hub but also provides Abu Dhabi with a first-mover advantage on a passenger and cargo system. A hyperloop network in the Arabian Gulf region could move up to 45 million passengers per year, powered by solar panels covering the tube.

What’s in a Virgin hyperloop?

Virgin Hyperloop One involves a suspended capsule that consists of multiple passenger/cargo pods in a near-vacuum environment. With speeds of up to 1,123 km/h, the capsule glides through electric propulsion and magnetic levitation, requiring minimal energy. This happens with the help of a proprietary linear electric-motor system, no-contact electromagnetism, and ultra-low aerodynamic drag.

The Virgin Hyperloop One system in Dubai is 100% electric.

The noise levels of the pods are significantly lower than other forms of transportation helping minimize noise pollution.

While over 10,000 travelers can be transported both ways every hour, the system resizes the fleet of pods according to the existing number of passengers.