Fossil-fuel dependant transport accounts for nearly one quarter of worldwide CO2 emissions linked to energy, and the trend is set to increase as access to different forms of transport becomes more widespread in developing countries. This raises questions over the future of mobility: how will people move around cities, around countries, and across oceans in the future, in a sustainable manner?
Looking to the future, a potentially revolutionary form of transport is set to be available for visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai, the next World Expo. According to developers’ plans, an integrated Hyperloop system will be ready by the opening of the Expo to transport people and goods at supersonic speeds between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
First proposed by Elon Musk in 2012, Hyperloop is energy-efficient and can be powered exclusively by solar energy – a remarkable feat for high-speed transport. The proposed cutting-edge transit technology is set to feature sleek passenger pods travelling through reduced-pressure tubes on a cushion of air, propelled using a linear induction motor. Expected to transport passengers at speeds of nearly 1,200km/h the Hyperloop could be fully autonomous, due to its capacity to generate and store power.
The Hyperloop system would not be the first time an innovative form of mobility is showcased at an Expo – high-speed transport technologies have been a major feature at several Expos across the decades. Most recently, during Expo 2015 Milan, Europe’s fastest train, the Trenitalia Frecciarossa 1000, popularly called “the red arrow”, made its debut with a regular service between Rome and the Expo host city. Able to reach speeds of 354km/h, the Electrical Multiple Unit (EMU) bullet train, is significant for its components, which are almost 85% recyclable and 95% renewable.
The history of another breakthrough in sustainable transport, the Maglev (magnetic levitation), is also closely connected with that of Expos. After some initial concepts, it was further developed into the HSST-03 (High Speed Surface Transport) Maglev, a train suspended, guided and propelled by linear induction motors (LIMs) which harnessed magnets and created both lift and propulsion for these frictionless trains. First showcased at Specialised Expo 1985 Tsukuba, then at Expo 1986 Vancouver, the Maglev marked a fundamental breakthrough in transportation technology and paved the way for unprecedented advancements in urban and long-distance transportation.
The concept was further developed and showcased at Expo 2005 Aichi with the display of the eco-friendly, magnetically levitated HSST-03 Linimo, the first commercially available Maglev, built exclusively to serve the Expo. The concept underwent further technological improvements, allowing visitors to Expo 2010 Shanghai to travel from the airport using the world’s Transrapid Maglev, using the same linear induction motor technology showcased in Tsukuba, 25 years previously.
The future seems closer than ever as technologies such as Maglev and Hyperloop become feasible transport solutions. As Expo 2017 Astana prepares to welcome visitors on Saturday, it is worth considering how innovative and fuel-efficient technologies will shape transport in the decades to come and play a role in the shift towards a lower carbon future.