Magnetic levitation: Maglev car tests reach 140 mph

Why is this important: When people discuss maglev technology, it usually relates to rail systems where it is known to enable incredible speeds. Recent tests have explored the potential benefits that maglev rails could bring to cars. The trials are early, but the results are promising.

Chinese media recently reported that a 2.8-tonne car levitated 35mm above a modified stretch of expressway in eastern China. A separate test reached a top speed of 230 km/h (about 143 mph). Researchers believe that applying maglev locomotion to cars could increase their range and longevity while consuming less energy.

The tests took place on a 7.9 km (5 mile) stretch of road in Jiangsu province, where researchers from Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu installed an array of permanent magnets and a conductor rail to allow transport by maglev. In all, they modified and tested eight standard cars for the special tracks. Maglev technology uses magnets and electromagnetic forces to levitate vehicles – usually trains – above tracks.

However, the trials probably don’t mean we’ll see widespread maglev cars in China anytime soon. Local transport authorities commissioned them to study the safety of high-speed maglev driving on existing roads and to investigate expansion of the technology. In addition to the fuel efficiency benefits, maglev cars could reduce traffic congestion through the coordination of separate lanes.

China has been a maglev pioneer for some time. The world’s first maglev train – still in service – was the Shanghai Transrapid. It is also the fastest electric passenger train in the world, with a cruising speed of 431 km/h (268 mph).

Last year, China unveiled a 600 km/h maglev train in development in Qingdao. While the Shanghai line only connects one airport to the city, China eventually hopes to use maglev trains like the one in Qingdao to drastically reduce travel times between major cities compared to planes and traditional high-speed trains. .

A report by Allied Market Research released this week claims that the global maglev market could generate $2.7 billion in 2025 and $5.6 billion by 2035. Urbanization in developing European countries could be the main driver of this growth.

Perhaps one of the strongest sectors of the maglev market is superconducting maglevs (SCMAGLEV), which consume 30% less energy than other maglev trains due to their lack of electrical resistance. A project is currently underway to demonstrate the potential of SCMAGLEV technology with a line connecting Baltimore to Washington, DC.

The success of Jiangsu’s tests is indeed good news for China’s maglev ambitions, but it’s too early to tell how quickly maglev cars could spread.

Image credit: Xinhua

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