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Sustainability-in-Tech : First For Energy-Saving Magnetic Levitation Train

Italian firm IronLev has claimed to have completed the first-ever magnetic levitation (maglev) test on an existing train track.

Energy Saving Potential 

The use of maglev technology for trains is particularly valuable because, if scaled up, it has the potential to reduce costs and energy usage as the industry seeks more efficient systems. This is because, unlike traditional trains that rely on wheels and rails (thereby creating significant friction), the idea of maglev trains is to levitate the train above the tracks using powerful magnets. The absence of physical contact with the track eliminates the wear and tear on tracks and wheels, leading to lower maintenance costs.

Also, the reduced friction means maglev trains require less energy to achieve and maintain high speeds, making them more energy efficient. Extra energy savings may also come from the trains’ streamlined design (minimising air resistance). Other benefits of maglev for trains are reduced noise and vibration for those living near train tracks.

Test Video 

Recently, at the LetExpo2024 trade fair in the Veneto region, Italian company Ironlev (from Treviso) showcased a video of its apparently successful maglev test on a conventional train track. The video showed a one-ton prototype traveling at a speed of 70 km/h (43 mph) over a two-kilometre stretch of line in the hinterland of Venice.

A First 

Massimo Bergamasco, director of the Institute of Mechanical Intelligence at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, said: “The test carried out by IronLev represents the first and only case of magnetic levitation applied to an existing railway track without requiring the modification or integration of accessory elements.” 

IronLev’s Chairperson, Adriano Girotto, also highlighted how Ironlev’s ability to create a workable new solution that uses existing infrastructure is an improvement on many of the mostly ad hoc stabs at achieving maglev train travel by others. Mr Girotto said: “Some of our competitors have carried out tests on specific tracks built to accommodate a magnetic levitation vehicle. We have demonstrated that our vehicle can levitate on an existing track.” 

Already Used In China, Korea, and Japan 

Although Ironlev can claim a first for magnetic levitation being applied to an existing railway track without needing modifications, maglev trains are already in use in China, South Korea, and Japan, albeit in very small numbers. Also, a maglev train was run in Germany just after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Other Applications Of Maglev By Ironlev 

Interestingly, Ironlev is already finding other practical uses for its maglev technology, e.g. to move heavy windows, for elevators, and to transport loads within industrial settings.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Although only successful in a test so far, Ironlev’s maglev technology shows great promise in many key areas. For example, if rolled out at scale, not only could it help the rail industry to decarbonise, save energy, and meet targets, but it may also improve performance and lessen the impact on homes close to railway.

Ironlev’s technology’s apparent success is rooted in its ability to solve two of the key challenges that have been holding back maglev railways up until now, i.e. it costs less than previous efforts and it can run on existing infrastructure without the need for costly, complicated, and time-consuming modifications. Also, as Ironlev has pointed out, its maglev technology can be leveraged in other areas, such as for elevators, thereby promising many other possible opportunities in different industries.

Although still at the testing stage, Ironlev’s system shows how existing technology can be modified to overcome a major challenge, thereby enabling that technology to evolve and benefit not just a whole industry, but our pressing collective need to decarbonise.