Valencia’s Zeleros is determined to bring hyperloop travel to reality by 2030

by | 13. November 2023

A visit to Zeleros hyperloop reveals the potential for high-speed, energy-efficient travel but also challenges faced in commercialisation.

When I told friends I was visiting a hyperloop company in Valencia, the most common response was, “That’s still a thing?!”

Rest assured, the dream of a people-carrying pod propelled by air in a tube is still alive and well, and Valencia startup Zeleros is pushing the change forward.

Hyperloop transport is designed to carry people or cargo in pods or capsules travelling through low-pressure tubes at high speeds raised by magnetic levitation to reduce friction. The idea is to create a near-vacuum environment inside the tubes to minimise air resistance, allowing the pods to travel at high speeds (faster than maglev trains, between 800 to 1200 kmph).

Using a hyperloop, the 439-kilometre journey from Frankfurt to Amsterdam would take a mere 50 minutes — currently around 4 hours 26 minutes by car. Hyperloops promise unrivalled energy efficiency, for example, using only 10 percent of the energy needed for roads and aviation, and 50 percent less energy than rail.

Hyperloop transport is not new. But it came into public consciousness in 2013 — yep, ten years ago — when Elon Musk introduced the concept in a research paper that posited the Hyperloop as “a fifth mode of transport” after planes, trains, cars, and boats.

Space X sponsored The Hyperloop Pod Competition from 2015 to 2019. Teams competed to design — and, for some, build — a subscale prototype transport vehicle. Some of these teams have scaled to become fully functional startups with significant funding, including Zeleros, who won awards in the competition, Nevomo (Poland) and Hardt (Netherlands).

I laughed when the Zeleros co-founder Juan Vicen Balaguer shared a photo of the team, with Elon Musk in the background at the competition, stating, “Here is Elon Musk near us; he’s a bit unapproachable…” Lol.

It follows that hyperloop tech has always been a case of smoke and mirrors.

Visiting Valencia, I did not witness a hyperloop in action, but bits of various prototypes and machinery (more on that later) and a small model a third of the size of an actual pod.

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