Chinese researchers at the Applied Superconductivity Laboratory of Southwest Jiaotong University are currently testing “Super-Maglev” train technology that will someday allow travel at speeds up to 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) per hour, or three times faster than a jet airplane.
Current Maglev trains utilize large magnets located along the train’s undercarriage. When the magnetic coils embedded within the actual track are charged, electromagnetic suspension is achieved that levitates the train 1 to 10 cm above the guide way. Once the train floats on a cushion of air, the polarity of the magnetized coils is changed to create a system of magnetic fields that pull and push the train along the guide way free of friction. This lack of friction is what allows Maglev trains to reach unprecedented speeds on the ground.
Although current Maglev trains seem impressive, Dr. Deng Zigang, the project lead in the Chinese experiment on Super-Maglevs, highlights areas where the technology can be improved: “If the running speed exceeds 400 kilometers (250 miles) per hour, more than 83 percent of traction energy will wastefully dissipate in air resistance.”
The solution to overcoming this barrier is to diminish resistance by reducing the air pressure in the running environment, which Dr. Zigang has accomplished by encapsulating the guide way in an airtight tube and lowering the air pressure to 10 times less than normal atmospheric pressure at sea level.
Such a system could empower Maglev trains to attain speeds as high as 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) per hour, which in addition to land travel could be applied to space launch and advanced military systems.
The current test track, with a top speed of 50 kilometers per hour, is only limited by the 12 meter diameter of the track. There are high hopes research will lead to greater speeds. According to Zigang, “The meaning of the project is that it will be the first one to realize the prototype of the future.”
This is quite possibly the very beginning of a new revolution in transportation whose effect may be as profound as air travel was to previous generations.