Monday, April 20, 2015

Freight Underground? A New Concept Tested to Decongest Roads with Subterranean Haulage

Stick That in Your Pipe
Shipping News Feature

UK – Mole Solutions has been awarded a £98,496 grant by the UK government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, for an urban freight transport solution aimed at reducing the level of road haulage operations within urban areas by using freight pipelines instead to carry goods in capsules, each capable of carrying two full sized pallets, in order to link edge of town consolidation centres with strategically placed inner town nodal points, travelling via maglev technology.

Dubbed the Mole Freight Pipeline system, this project intends to establish the business case for a specific urban location and a realistic timetable for development. It builds on previous studies by Mole Solutions for the transport of bulk products: 1) DEFRA funded/DfT managed study to assess the feasibility of freight pipelines to transport aggregates, 2) a Smart Proof of Concept Grant and 3) a Development of Prototype Grant; output being an operational demonstrator in 2014. These have apparently shown that the individual technologies are available and the innovation comes from combining these into a feasible and very cost effective, socially acceptable and low environmental impact freight solution.

The nine month project, as part of Innovate UK’s SMART programme proof of concept project, will take place in the Midlands, with research and data gathering on the range and scale of freight movements within this urban area, establishing the current state of commercial, environmental, socio economic influences among others. A freight pipeline based system will then be conceived to improve the situation and a comparison of all the relevant parameters carried out to establish the benefits and the economic viability of the proposal. In awarding the grant to Mole, Innovate UK said:

“Urban supply chains suffer from, and are a significant contributor to, road congestion. The loss of business efficiency, increase in air pollution, damage to the road network etc. are estimated to cost the UK economy £32billion per year. Whilst the benefits of freight pipelines are readily appreciated, the capital cost and development timescales are considered major viability concerns.

“The demonstrator attracted interest from the public sector; the potential for freight pipelines within cities. Northampton Councils, LEP and University are all keen to understand the feasibility of modifying the bulk concept to a pallet carrying system for Northampton. This would provide a model for urban applications globally.”

In its submission for the grant, Mole said that this project will:

• Establish technology changes required from the bulk demonstrator system,

• Determine limits of economic viability (capital and operating costs, capacity utilisation),

• Estimate the socio-environmental impact for different scenarios,

• Identify ‘barriers to change’

• Prepare a realistic development programme.

Mole Solutions are the project leader and system integrator and are assisted by specialist contractors such as DHL (3rd party logistics), Morgan Sindall (Tunnelling and Pipe construction), Laing O’Rourke (Civil Engineering), Force Engineering (capsule propulsion), WGH (capsule and track) and SoSustainable (socio – environmental), Local University for data gathering and analysis. Looking to the future of the project, Mole said in a statement:

“Irrespective of the merits of the final results for the test case, the process established in the project can then be used to assess other locations that have major congestion and pollution problems caused by excess road usage. Mole Solutions are already in negotiation with authorities at other major conurbations who have interest in the Mole Freight Pipeline concept.”

Photo: Mole executives really are convinced their concept could revolutionise many forms of transport!