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Gulf region a front runner in global race for Virgin Hyperloop

31 Mar 2021

Hypermotion Dubai 2021 panel discussion explores the future of Smart Mobility in the UAE

Dubai, UAE: The Gulf region could be a front runner in the global race to be the first destination for the Virgin Hyperloop, an ultra-high-speed ground-level transportation system that aims to move people and goods at speeds as high as 1,220kms per hour.

That’s the view of Tim Wilkinson, Executive Director of Strategy and Growth for Virgin Hyperloop, a futuristic transport concept that plans to propel pods inside vacuum tubes at airline speeds but on ground level.

Hypermotion Dubai - Virgin Hyperloop test run
Virgin Hyperloop conducted its first test run with people in November 2020

Virgin Hyperloop conducted its first test run with people in November 2020 on a 500-metre track in Las Vegas USA. In that trial, two passengers travelled the length of the test track in 15 seconds, reaching 172kms per hour.

While this is a fraction of Virgin’s ambitions for travel at the speed of sound, it’s an important milestone for the sustainable technology that has previously been described by some critics as science fiction.

Wilkinson said having the right environment, infrastructure, and ambitions are key factors in determining which country or countries may successfully host the world’s first hyperloop system – key factors which he believes the Gulf region has in abundance. 

“My money is on the Gulf,” said Wilkinson, when asked whether the Gulf region, or other potential front runners India, or the USA would be the first locations for Virgin Hyperloop. 

“I believe the conditions for Hyperloop are perfect in the Gulf Cooperation Council. It’s mostly flat, it doesn't have existing mass transit ground-based infrastructure, and regional governments here actively embrace new technology. You see this all the time in countries like the UAE which is actively trialling new forms of transport.

“And we have an abundance of sunshine which allows us to look at renewables and solar in particular (as a power source). Solar power gives us the opportunity to unplug from the grid. We can have photovoltaic panels on our tubes which allows us to become self-sufficient from an energy perspective.

“Virgin Hyperloop is 10 times more energy efficient than flying; it’s 50 times more energy efficient than high-speed rail; and its four times more energy efficient than regular rail. The technology is a paradigm shift in terms of energy consumption, and it’s fully autonomous.”

Wilkinson was speaking at a panel discussion about ‘the future of Smart Mobility in the UAE’, hosted by Hypermotion Dubai, a global forum taking place in November 2021 to address the future of the transport, logistics and mobility sectors through disruption, decarbonisation and digitalisation.

Virgin Hyperloop, which has Dubai’s DP World’s backing as a major shareholder, aims to have commercial certification by 2025, with the first passenger services potentially starting five years later in 2030.

Hypermotion Dubai - Hyperloop technology uses electric propulsion and magnetic levitation to move passenger vehicles (pods) through low-pressure tubes
Hyperloop technology uses electric propulsion and magnetic levitation to move passenger vehicles (pods) through low-pressure tubes

Hyperloop technology uses electric propulsion and magnetic levitation to move passenger vehicles (pods) through low-pressure tubes. With no vehicle-to-track friction and ultra-low aerodynamic drag, these fully autonomous pods can connect cities in minutes. 

Added Wilkinson, “We’re talking about airline speeds at ground level, so Dubai to Abu Dhabi (as much as 1.5 hours by car), can be connected in as little as 12-15 minutes; or from Abu Dhabi to Riyadh in Saudi in less than an hour; of from Riyadh to Jeddah, again in less than an hour.

“It's a paradigm shift in terms of how we think about not only moving between cities, but ultimately how cities themselves evolve around the concept of Hyperloop and how cities embrace Hyperloop in terms of their own evolution and how that affects our ability to work in one place.”

Hypermotion Dubai’s panel discussion was also addressed by Mhairi Main Garcia, Partner at law form Dentons and Vice Chair at UAE Clean Energy Business Council; Dr. Patrick Noack, Executive Director of Future Foresight & Imagination at the Dubai Future Foundation; and Stephan Gobert, Head of Strategy of French energy giant, ENGIE, and board member of the UAE Clean Energy Business Council. 

Garcia commented on the progress Dubai and more widely the UAE had made in terms of facilitating energy decarbonisation, referring to the UAE Energy Strategy 2050, in which the country aims to increase the contribution of clean energy to 50 percent of total energy by 2050.

Hypermotion Dubai - Mhairi Main Garcia
Mhairi Main Garcia, Vice Chair at UAE Clean Energy Business Council

“Dubai also passed its own clean energy targets and these are even more ambitious than the federal targets,” said Garcia. “Dubai aimed for seven percent renewable and clean energy by 2020, which have already been achieved. These targets will increase to 25 percent by 2030 and 75 percent by 2050.”

Garcia said the UAE has made great strides so far in pushing the decarbonising agenda, with the Gulf Country committing to the Paris Agreement – an international treaty on climate change. She said the key was to continue on the course for the ambitious targets and to not lose sight of the small but significant milestones along the way.

She added, “We have to be cognizant of where we started and we’re sitting in a region that is traditionally a hydrocarbon producing region. And so whilst we’re going to see a huge commitment toward renewables, the top priority in terms of getting that sustainability in the region is meeting those commitments that have been set already and not backtracking.

“But in order to meet those targets, we also have to be realistic that at least in the short term, we’re going to see renewables operating side by side with conventional energy.”


Covid-19 a catalyst for decarbonising mobility

Garcia said while the Covid-19 pandemic brought about an international health crisis along with global economic pain, it could also act as a catalyst for the decarbonisation of future mobility.

“I do feel there are some real opportunities to capitalise and to use Covid-19 as a catalyst for decarbonising mobility. We saw a dramatic fall in traffic levels during the global lockdown, both in terms of cars and, planes, along with industrial output, and all this had massive environmental advantages with far lower CO2 emissions. 

“People now understand more the environmental impact of traditional transport of cars and airlines, and this kind of awareness can lead to an opportunity for more education in terms of using public transport, or reverting to electric vehicles, understanding the costs involved with EVs and how practical they are to use. To me, I think there is an opportunity for Covid-19 to be that catalyst for education and change.”

‘The future of Smart Mobility in the UAE’ was part of a video panel discussion series hosted by Messe Frankfurt Middle East, the organiser of Hypermotion Dubai, which will make its debut from 2-4 November 2021 at the Dubai Exhibition Centre (DEC).

The annual three-day event will take place with DP World as Global Partner and Dubai South as Future City Partner. Other government partners and supporters include Dubai Tourism as Destination Partner; Dubai Chamber; UAE Ministry of Economy; UAE National Program for Artificial Intelligence; Dubai Supreme Council of Energy; and the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.

Hypermotion Dubai will coincide with Expo 2020 – the Arab region’s first World Fair running under the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. 

With mobility, sustainability, and opportunity key subthemes of the six month-long mega event, Expo 2020 is set to provide a much larger global audience for Hypermotion Dubai, which will operate under four key themes: Connectivity, Hypermodality, Sustainability and Digital & Urban Logistics.

Hypermotion Dubai is designed to connect public and private investors as well as decision makers with technologies made specifically for the mobility industry with a lead focus on logistics and freight.

It will target a unique mix of Business-to-Government (B2G), Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-People (B2P) audiences through strategic content, high-end networking opportunities, competitions and pitches covering all aspects of the future of intelligent transport systems.

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