LaunchPoint News

Five industries revolutionized by Maglev

Posted on Thu, Jul 6, 2006

Magnetic levitation has been heralded as one of the next big technologies for more than thirty years. Maglev is finally finding applications in many key industries now that research is catching up to theory.

Energy Storage

California’s rolling blackouts of 2001 and the great New England blackout of 2003 received major media coverage and made the slowly-deteriorating national power grid a hot topic. A new magnetically-levitated flywheel called the “Power Ring” will help to reduce blackouts, make wind power more practical, and provide more reliable power for homes and industries.

Power Rings are being designed at LaunchPoint Technologies to store energy in the form of supersonic rotation, producing electricity on demand. They will be ultra-efficient due to their frictionless Maglev operation, and scalable to very large capacities to suit a wide range of power needs. Current flywheels on the market suffer from low efficiencies due to heat and friction losses. The Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation have awarded LaunchPoint grants totaling $350,000 for Power Ring development.

Freight Shipping

With the price of oil at record levels, the cost to ship goods around the country is growing increasingly expensive. Transport security is also a growing concern and threatens to drive costs even higher. The Magtube is an underground maglev shipping system in development that magnetically levitates and propels secured containers through evacuated tubes at a very high rate of speed.

Both energy costs and security concerns could be greatly reduced by this system, designed by LaunchPoint engineer Jim Fiske. It could ultimately provide a new alternative to the nation’s congested air and ground transportation networks. Faster than air transport, cheaper than truck, completely secure, and free of pollution, the innovative Magtube system could redefine the meaning of “fast freight” in the 21st century.

Heart Care

Heart disease affects 23 million people in the U.S. Many of those suffering from advanced cases would benefit from a long-term ventricular assist device (VAD) — an artificial pump that assists a failing heart. WorldHeart Corporation has successfully implanted a next-generation maglev VAD into a human patient, leading the way for a new level of heart care.

Current VADs have mechanical bearings that damage blood cells, preventing their use in long-term care. Maglev VAD technology, developed by LaunchPoint Technologies and licensed to WorldHeart, protects blood cells and could lead to long-term VAD implants. Miniaturization breakthroughs are also allowing scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and LaunchPoint to develop a tiny version called the PediaFlow Pediatric Ventricular Assist Device (PVAD), specially designed for infants with congenital heart disease.

Public transit

Much of the excitement surrounding maglev has been in the public transit arena. An innovative approach to public transit is being researched: a point-to-point personal maglev transportation network called the Mag Net™.

Based on “packet switching” technology, this system designed by Magtube engineer Jim Fiske will whisk passengers in private vehicles directly to their destination without intermediate stops. In addition to savings in energy, pollution, and travel time, the Mag Net system can be constructed at a fraction of the cost of conventional high-speed maglev trains.

Traditional maglev trains are already being developed to help relieve our overburdened highways. A single maglev train line can transport the same number of people as an uncongested 4-lane freeway – about 12,000 passengers per hour. But maglev trains are so expensive that the only line in commercial operation is a 20-mile route in China linking the city of Shanghai to Pudong International Airport.

Maglev routes are being planned throughout the world in key corridors such as Baltimore–Washington, San Diego–LAX in California, Tokyo-Osaka in Japan, Dusseldorf-Dortman in Germany, downtown Karachi in Pakistan, and Bahrain/Qatar/UAE in the Middle East – all prime candidates for Mag Net networks.

Space Launch

At roughly $4,000 per pound, launching satellites into orbit is too expensive for all but the most critical of payloads. A new maglev system called the “Launch Ring” could lower the cost of launch to $100 per pound.

With the help of a $100,000 grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, scientists at LaunchPoint Technologies are investigating the feasibility of a maglev launch system. The proposed Launch Ring would accelerate magnetically levitated projectiles to launch speed inside a circular evacuated tunnel, ultimately releasing them on an orbital trajectory. Though extremely high G-forces will prevent the system from sending people into space, payloads such as fuel, water, food, components and construction materials would be prime candidates for launch.

The hope: lower launch costs to $100 per pound or less, making space access affordable to a whole new range of industries and uses. Perhaps maglev will do for space what the steam locomotive did for the American West.

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