Tim Houter on being competitive, building Hardt and developing the hyperloop
Tim Houter has always been a competitive guy. Having been active in sports from a young age and later involving himself in a number of high-tech competitions, he knows what it takes to work hard for the top prize. Especially when it comes to fast modes of transportation, he has been on a winning streak for about a decade now.
For two years, he worked on engineering prize-winning lightweight electric cars with the Racing team of the TU Delft and in 2017, he and his team won first prize in the international SpaceX Hyperloop competition, organized by Elon Musk.
As the co-founder of Hardt Hyperloop, today Tim is strictly dedicated to disrupting the transport industry with this new, innovative and sustainable mode of transport.
“We foresee a growth of 2.5 times in both passenger and cargo transport by 2050 and we see a very strong urge for sustainable transportation, too. More people want to travel further and faster, so this looks like a great time for hyperloop to take off.”
No idea is too big if you have the right team behind it
Tim strongly believes that by 2050, people will be able to travel by hyperloop across Europe. And that’s important because without an ambitious and clear goal for the future, a technology as new and complex as the hyperloop would be difficult to develop and thrive.
Already more than a century ago, scientists were circling around the idea of high-speed transport involving levitating pods in a vacuum-sealed tube.
“The concept is indeed old, but back in the day the necessity for speed, sustainability and growth in transportation was less than what it is now,” Tim explains. With hyperloop, things move through a tube but the technology behind it is different from what was conceived back in the day.
“The tube works via a difference in air pressure, and the hyperloop vehicles are levitated and stabilized magnetically. There is a low-pressure environment in the tube which is how you can achieve high speeds with very limited energy usage. It is not a complete vacuum.”
Tim has been fascinated with the hyperloop concept ever since Elon Musk proposed it in 2012. By that time, he was part of the team building electric race cars in a rather competitive setting. “I thought, how cool would it be if there were a hyperloop competition?” he remembers. And not long after that became reality.
Shortly after the announcement, the team came together to try and figure out what they needed to win the SpaceX Hyperloop competition. They were at an advantage even before they had started.
“We already had the experience with the race car competition, where we had a team of 80 people. We knew how to manage a big technical team and how to realize high-tech milestones in a short amount of time. So, we built and shipped a physical [hyperloop] prototype to the US and we won the big overall prize.”
The biggest learning for Tim was that with a strong and dedicated team anything is possible. That is also what gave them the confidence to start Hardt Hyperloop.
The future of hyperloop – for Hardt and Europe
Today, more than six years down the line, Tim and his team of 40 have checked off one milestone after the next. With partners such as Tata Steel, IHC and Dutch construction company BAM, as well as a recent 15-million-euro grant from the European Union, they are well on their way to make hyperloop the transport mode of the future.
With the grant from the EU, Hardt is building a new test facility in the European Hyperloop Center in Groningen, which will be able to demonstrate the required hyperloop technologies.
“Eventually we will be able to test at 700km/hour,” Tim says, “and what is key is that we will be able to test the hyperloop lane switch where the tube diverges into two. It is the same concept as a rail switch and we are known for working on those switches for the hyperloop.”
Apart from that, the team will have the capacity to launch larger-scale pilot projects and they aim to enter the market with cargo transport.
“We think cargo is a good entry market because it requires less regulatory hurdles and safety restrictions. When such a pilot is up and running, we can extend it to a full commercial route – and when that is operational, we can expand it towards the network. We’re thinking of a hyperloop network of 10,000km, which is less than 5% of all the railways in Europe. Since it’s been done once with the railway, we can definitely do it again.”
What is necessary to make all this happen is the commitment of governments and the EU as a whole. If governments envision that, at some point in the future, large cities in Europe would need to be connected within one or two hours, then there wouldn’t be many options aside from hyperloop. Hyperloop is already a part of Europe’s sustainability and mobility strategy, Tim says, but it is still on a conceptual level and needs to be made more solid.
“It all starts with having good connections between cities. There are large budgets already out there and hopefully we can invest them in hyperloop to tackle our sustainability challenges.”
Hardt is one of several European companies developing the hyperloop technology and Tim believes that collaboration and knowledge-sharing between them will be at the heart of progress. There would need to be a European hyperloop standard to ensure that all solutions are compatible and serve the same purpose – fast, comfortable and sustainable travel.
Going forward, Hardt will be focusing on the construction and development of the European Hyperloop Center in Groningen, followed by realizing a route of a few kilometers. Several years down the line, somewhere between 2025-2026, Tim and his team will be looking to launch their first commercial pilots with various cities.
It is a long, yet exciting road ahead, looking to build a more sustainable future for transport.
Listen to the Up!Rotterdam podcast with Tim below, or check all the episodes of the Up!Rotterdam podcast here: https://podcast.uprotterdam.com/