ArcelorMittal pairs up with India to develop hyperloop transportation

ArcelorMittal has partnered with Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) to develop cost-effective hyperloop technology for the high-speed transport of passengers and cargo.

Hyperloops are a proposed transport system made of steel tubes large enough — up to 3.5 meters in diameter — to carry passenger and freight pods at up to 1,200 km/hour speeds while using very little energy, hailed by some — including Elon Musk — as a potential sustainable high-speed mobility system for the future. So far, testing speeds have been limited to 200-500 km/hour.

ArcelorMittal said in a Jan. 3 statement that together with its integrated flat steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India it is providing steel, as well as engineering, design and project management expertise to support the creation of India’s and Asia’s first hyperloop test track at IIT Madras’ 163-acre Discovery Campus on the outskirts of Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu.

ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India is supplying 400 mt of steel for the fabrication of a 400-meter vacuum tube, in which autonomous, levitating pods will be tested at speeds of up to 200 km/hour. The test facility is expected to be operational by the end of Q1 2024.

Following the completion of the proof-of-concept phase, next would come the development of an operational demonstration route to validate the techno-commercial prospects of the technology.

Hyperloop’s proponents believe it will use 10-times less energy than road transportation or aviation, yet the infrastructure it needs is very metal intensive: 1 km of this transportation system requires from 2,000 mt (at maximum achieved steel weight reduction without the loss of properties) to 5,000 mt of steel — a lot more than the 1,600 mt of steel than it takes to build a railtrack of the same length, and this means higher embedded emissions too.

Current world average direct and indirect emissions during the production of 1 mt of 600 mm or wider flat-rolled steel coil is estimated by the European Commission at 2.28-2.39 mt of CO2, which means that steel in 1 km of the hyperloop would carry anything between 5,000 mt and 11,000 mt of CO2, S&P Global Commodity Insights estimates.

Steel companies have been optimizing steel properties for the ultra-high-speed conditions of hyperloop systems since the late 2010s, aiming to develop strong, yet lightweight steels and pipe designs that could withstand internal low pressure with sufficient rigidity while ensuring high safety and energy efficiency at low construction and scalability costs.

For this purpose, ArcelorMittal has been in partnership with European hyperloop developer Zeleros since 2017.

Tata Steel and Posco unveiled a collaboration to develop steel grades and tube technologies for hyperloops in November 2020; by that time Posco had been conducting hyperloop-related research for more than 10 years already. Later Tata Steel said its low carbon steel product Zeremis Carbon Lite would be tested in the European Hyperloop Center in Groningen, the Netherlands.

Later, in October 2021, Russian steel company Severstal secured a contract with Los Angeles-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies to supply steel for one of the first commercial hyperloop prototypes, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to the removal of the company from the project.

Author: Katya Bouckley