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Chapter 3: The Potential for Maglev Applications

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Technological Advancement and Spin-offs

Maglev systems feature new, innovative technological content when compared to existing transportation systems. As noted in Section 2, each of the United States conceptual system designs has a different approach to meeting the levitation, propulsion, guidance, and power transfer requirements for a high-speed magnetic levitation system. As the engineering designs in these areas are refined, technical advances with spin-off implications to other products and industries are likely.

Areas in which maglev technical development will be focused include:

Magnetics - High temperature superconductivity, cryogenics, low temperature refrigerators, and superconducting magnet design and construction.

Materials - Fiber reinforced plastics for vehicles and structural concretes.

Electronics - Communication and high power solid-state controls.

Engineering - Vehicle design (aerodynamics and noise mitigation), precision manufacturing, construction and fabrication of concrete structures.

Possible advances and spin-offs in these areas are identified in the discussion below of innovations related to key maglev system components.


To achieve the dynamic behavior and construction tolerances of the concrete structures, it will be necessary to develop new manufacturing techniques and facilities analogous to those developed in Germany for this purpose. New methods that could be used immediately in conventional civil construction projects for installing the system along existing highways with minimal disruption will be required. The use of nonconducting, nonmagnetic polymer reinforcing materials in concrete might have the potential for extending the life of concrete structures. If successful, these materials will significantly reduce the life cycle cost when used in the renovation of highways and bridges. Expansion of the fiber reinforced plastics industry would likely result in cost reductions and greater utilization of these materials in other applications. The guideway might also incorporate devices to assure that it is not obstructed by debris, or damaged by accidents or earthquakes, the latter being an important consideration in the United States, but only a minor consideration in Europe.

Power Equipment

The power equipment used between the transmission line and the guideway must be developed. Each system will be different. In one proposed system, the power conditioning is performed at the location of each coil in the guideway, requiring thousands of high-power solid-state power control devices. In another, the tide quality of the vehicle is controlled, in part, by dynamically varying the phase of the power to the motor, requiring the development of high-power control systems to achieve this objective. Each of these components presents opportunities for the development of similar systems for automated manufacturing and other purposes.


The vehicles will be constructed of aluminum or fiber reinforced plastic structures and will contain superconducting magnets, cryogenic systems, and high speed, highly reliable local, regional, and central communications and control systems. Maglev has stimulated a reexamination of passenger comfort and environment requirements, and means of achieving them, that will carry over directly to other transportation modes. Means of ensuring minimal environmental impacts from routing, magnetic exposure, noise, and air pollution are being investigated that will influence our use of petroleum and electrical energy and livability of our cities and countryside. These considerations will have long-lasting effects on our lifestyles.


Superconducting magnets are used for many purposes, but seldom in applications where lives depend on their operation or in transportation applications where they are subject to the vibrations expected in maglev systems.  The development of vibration insensitive magnets might be of use in transportable magnetic resonance imaging systems, military magneto-hydrodynamic systems for ship propulsion and other mobile applications. Magnets that fail in a more controlled manner might also be expected, permitting safer operation of the system. Credible designs have already been proposed for systems using supercritical, rather than liquid, helium as the refrigerant, with a significant increase in power efficiency of the cryogenic system. The United States and other countries have devoted major efforts to the development of high-temperature superconductor operating at temperature above 77 degree Kelvin, and one proposed system design might be capable of using such conductors as they currently exist. Such magnets in a Magellan system would effectively eliminate the concerns for cryogenic refrigeration abroad the vehicle. A dedicated Magellan program could provide the impetus to further develop these magnets which have numerous projected uses for medical applications, shielding of magnetic fields, electric motors, oil exploration, magnetic separation of materials, and superconducting magnetic energy storage.


High technology business will be quick to capitalize on spin-offs that occur as maglev technology evolves. Of particular economic value could be the early implementation of fiber reinforced polymers in concrete structures, vibration insensitive superconducting magnets, and ruggedized cryogenic and refrigeration systems for ship propulsion and other mobile uses. Also of value could be higher power solid-state devices for controlling motors in heavy industry, and linear synchronous motors for use in conveyors and manufacturing operations requiring precise control.

Glossary of Maglev Terms

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