A 'pipe dream' is defined by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary as "an illusory or fantastic plan, hope, or story." It is a phrase some people have used to describe the hyperloop, a futuristic form of transportation that aims to send specially designed trains through a closed tube at hundreds of miles per hour. It is a dream that, should it ever come to fruition, will require hundreds of miles of carbon tubing.
The reason many people consider the hyperloop nothing more than a pipe dream is the fact that, as of yet, it’s just a concept in the mind of eccentric billionaire and Tesla founder Elon Musk. Despite a number of hyperloop companies securing hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, there isn't a single full-scale prototype in existence right now. They are working on one in France, but it’s a long way from being completed.
The difficulty with taking the project seriously is the fact that so many scientists, engineers, and tech companies are jumping on board with the hyperloop concept and just assuming it will work – because theoretically, it makes sense. Unfortunately, a lot of things make sense on paper only to end up flopping in the real world. Hopefully the hyperloop will not suffer the same fate.
COMPOSITES INDUSTRY CONTRIBUTIONS
Some good news in all the hype surrounding the hyperloop is the fact that pursuing the concept is great for the composites industry. Like many ideas birthed in the mind of Elon Musk, making the hyperloop a reality is going to require a heavy reliance on composite materials. Carbon tubing is just the start, and even that is a monumental undertaking.
Creating carbon tubing big enough to accommodate a hyperloop train is something that has never been done before. The engineers in France had to come up with a special manufacturing process to get the finished product they wanted. They will eventually have to figure out how to mass-produce large sections of tubing if the hyperloop is to become a worldwide transportation phenomenon.
Above and beyond just the hyperloop's tube, composites will be the building blocks of everything from train bodies, to the smallest parts hidden deep inside. Engineers will be using composites to make seats, interior and exterior panels, control panels, cabinetry, and just about everything else on a typical hyperloop train. Remember, to reach the levels of speed Musk has envisioned requires ultralight materials that are just as strong as steel and aluminum. Composites like carbon fiber fit the bill.
AND IF IT DOESN'T WORK...
We join everyone else interested in this project in hoping that it actually succeeds. But if it doesn't, what next? Well, we will at least be able to walk away with a lot of new knowledge about how to manufacture and utilize composite materials like carbon fiber. Along the way we are sure to learn more about carbon nanotubes, carbon tow, mass-producing tubes and sheets, and so much more. We might even be introduced to new composite materials we don’t yet know of.
Even if the hyperloop turns out to be an unachievable pipe dream, it will still help the composites industry in many invaluable ways. That is the price of thinking big – and risking utter failure in the process. Sometimes you think big and your dreams come true. Other times you fail, but learn enough to help in the pursuit of the next big thing. That's what investing so much in the hyperloop is all about.