Maglev: Facts and Fantasy!


Maglev is short for Magnetic Levitation.  Maglev, is a method by which an object is suspended in the air with no support other than magnetic fields. The fields are used to reverse or counteract the gravitational pull and any other counter accelerations.

It has been used primarily for transportation- it was in 1979 when passengers were carried for the first time.   The first commercial maglev line made its debut in December of 2003. A form of maglev called Diamagnetic levitation can be used to  levitate light materials, water droplets and even live animals. It has been used to succesfully levitate a frog in 2000. The magnetic fields required for this are very high, typically in the range of 16 tesla.

So what are the prospects for the future of Maglev- could it be the transportation of the future- and might there be other uses for it?

Transportation still seems the best bet. Maglev trains could reach over 300mph. Countries including Japan, Denmark and China are actively developing and testing systems.

German transportation minister Peter Ramsauer is still very enthusiastic about the high-speed Maglev trains, but German manufacturers ThyssenKrupp and Siemens seem to have lost interest and are focusing on the conventional railroad business, which leaves minister Ramsauer furious and frustrated: “So far, the German government invested over 1.5 billion Euro  in the testing and development of Maglev. Now it’s up to the industry to market this future-oriented technology”. The Germans have their own Maklev test train and track.

But there are also some blue-sky thinking (some would say crazy thinking) ideas for how Maklev could be used in the future. These include… wait for it… floating cities, space launch systems, and Maglev bubble car. So far these are in the realms of fiction/fantasy. But one area that looks good is the more efficient use of wind power. Standard wind turbines convert only 1 percent of wind energy into usable power, and part of that inefficiency stems from the loss of energy due to friction as the turbine spins. Researchers at the Guangzhou Energy Research Institute have estimated that magnetically levitated turbines could boost wind energy generation by as much as 20 percent over traditional turbines.

The researchers proposed using a colossal turbine with vertical blades that are suspended above the base of the turbine using neodymium magnets. Because the moving parts wouldn’t touch, the turbines would be virtually frictionless and could capture energy from winds as slow as 1.5 meters (5 feet) per second. Maglev turbines could lower the price of wind energy to less than 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is on par with coal-generated electricity and only about half the typical cost of wind power.

The researchers say that a 1-gigawatt maglev turbine would cost $53 million to build and may require 100 acres of land, but it could supply electricity to 750,00 homes.
So watch this space- Maglev has some great potential for the future- and not just levitating small frogs!



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