Saft partners with Swissloop to develop the future of transportation and support STEM jobs.
ETH Zurich – a science and technology university – is offering its students an extraordinary hands-on learning experience this year. Swissloop, a team comprised of nearly 40 ETH physics, mathematics and engineering students – along with business and design students from other Swiss universities – is designing and building a prototype for Elon Musk’s vision of future transportation, known as the Hyperloop.
Swissloop will join multiple competitors from across the world in designing high-speed pod (transport capsule) prototypes and testing them on the Hyperloop track in Hawthorne, California – where Musk’s company SpaceX is based. This new form of transportation infrastructure is still in its prototype phase, but has the potential to connect European cities such as Berlin and Zurich in only 35 minutes (850 km).
Swissloop’s objective is to build the fastest pod that accelerates and decelerates successfully on SpaceX’s test track. The team envisages this pod traveling at 270 m/sec, to take passengers 250 km from Zurich to Geneva in 900 seconds (15 minutes).
The Hyperloop system would represent a significant breakthrough for passenger and cargo mass transportation, however there are numerous challenges to address to make it a reality. The pods travel through a vacuum tube where inside the pressure is one-thousandth that of atmospheric pressure (1mbar vs. 1bar atmospheric). In addition, extreme temperature variations are to be expected throughout the tube. Swissloop quickly realized advanced electronics would be essential for the pod to withstand such a harsh environment in the tube.
According to Christopher Timperio, technical project lead for Swissloop, the students attempted to build a battery for the 24V system and high-power needs of its prototype, but trial and error proved it could not make the enclosure pressure-tight with conventional batteries inside.
That’s when we discovered Saft. We’ve found that high-powered battery systems typically are large and heavy, so we were really interested in Saft’s small and lightweight battery packs.Christopher Timperio Technical project lead for Swissloop
Saft is providing Swissloop with a customized battery system comprised of seven lithium-ion MP 176065 XTD cells in a series with no parallel branches.
“This configuration is ideal, as it can serve as a building block for further iterations of the prototype; additional parallel branches can be added to the system to increase capacity as needed,” explains Ryan Bunge, applications engineer for Saft’s Civil Electronics Division in the US – where the battery is being designed and built. “The XTD cells have a proven history in extreme environments and space applications, so there was no question about the capabilities of this design with regard to performance in high-pressure, high-temperature conditions,” he says.
The battery is fundamental to the way the pod operates; it will power the electronics, controls and sensors. Sensors will measure temperature, acceleration and will operate the propulsion mechanism. The battery will also enable brake application, a crucial responsibility with the intense speeds of the Hyperloop transportation system. In today’s digital world, immediate data is a must, and Saft’s battery will send all the data directly to SpaceX. The battery pack can also remain running even when the pod is not competing. The current application does not need a lot of capacity, just short periods of high power, for instance when the breaks are actuated, according to Timperio.
Saft has worked with Swissloop this summer to ship and deliver the battery ahead of the competition on SpaceX’s Hyperloop track at the end of August.
“I am pleased to support this project because the requirements set by Swissloop highlight the capabilities of our product,” says Bunge. “We are able to design for them a custom battery system able to support extreme requirements, and that is the hallmark of Saft.”
Swissloop’s unique pod design also includes compressed air leaving the pod at minimal temperatures during propulsion – enabling rocket-like acceleration, permanent magnets used for levitation, and avionics and controls systems used to control and gather telemetry data.
Set up in 2016, Swissloop was the country’s way of addressing the Hyperloop phenomenon. The team has been delighted to see the drive and ambition of these students who are thrilled to be a part of the project. Around 30 students are dedicated to it full-time, while more than 60 team members may be working on the prototype part-time; focusing on a variety of issues. Some students receive course credits through an agreement with ETH Zurich, while others are working with Swissloop without any pay or compensation besides the satisfaction of building the pod concept.
Collaborations between academia and industry, such as this one between Swissloop and Saft, facilitate interactive, hands-on learning and encourage students to pursue careers in STEM. STEM education is a priority across the globe as countries seek to prepare the workforce of the future for society’s increased reliance on technology.
After this summer’s competition, Swissloop will continue on and build a second prototype in preparation for the next SpaceX competition in August 2018 – all working towards making this leap forward in transportation infrastructure a reality. Stay tuned for updates.