When Elon Musk presented his white paper outlining the hyperloop a few years back there were a number of scientists and engineers that roundly scoffed at the idea and deemed it impossible. Since his presentation, a number of companies are working hard to make it a reality including Hyperloop One which also envisions and underwater hyperloop to revolutionize ports as we know them.

Hyperloop One Underwater
Image source: YouTube Video Screenshot

Hyperloop One wishes to make the port a thing of the past

Now, despite a tubeless testing of its plans for the hyperlink earlier this year, the Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One has a lot of work to do in order for its vision to become a reality. Musk’s original vision revolved around the idea a getting people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in around a half-an-hour. That said, he did also envision cargo only pods moving through the tube. He did not mention the idea of placing them underwater, but Hyperloop One sees this as a possibility.

The idea is that the system the company wishes to build would allow ships to drop their cargo into considerably larger tunnels than the people movers on land and have it whisked away to its destination. The tunnels would be located about 10 miles offshore in the company’s ambitious plan.

“You can see it as almost analogous to what oil companies do now: They bring their tankers in, connect with risers offshore, collect or distribute their oil without ever coming into port, and then leave,” says Blake Cole, a marine engineer at Hyperloop One.

One can only imagine this remains a decade or more away but it could revolutionize how you view a port.

“Long Beach, near where I live, is a beautiful California coastline that is basically covered with ports or cargo containers and ships,” says Peter Diamandis, a Hyperloop One board member and CEO of the X-Prize Foundation. “Imagine if you could regain all of that coastline for parks and homes and beaches by taking the port and putting the port 10 miles off shore.”

“We’ve been talking to a lot of the port authorities around the world about re-engineering their ports in this kind of fashion,” he said.

In addition to freeing up the coastline to development, the plan would cut down on pollution as well. In Long Beach, CA, the port is largely viewed as an ecological mess and responsible for asthma rates in kids that are some of the highest in the United States.

“You don’t need to get these really pretty disgusting cargo ships actually entering ports anymore,” says Cole. “It’s bad that they pollute in general, but if they have to, it’s probably better that they be kept away from where people live.”

The technology needed will be elusive for time

While the port idea is noble, the technology is a long way’s away in reality and that work will need to be done on land.

Once that exists, the bulk of the technology could be transferred to an underwater environment but issues like leaking and keeping it airtight will need to be addressed.

“There are pretty substantial engineering challenges that have to be overcome before they can successfully be built,” says Cole.

But if doable, Cole loves the idea of reducing the cargo ships needed to move freight between, say, LA and San Francisco.

“Personally, what gets me the most excited are the possible implications for environmental remediation,” says Cole. “In my mind, if we can take even a handful of cargo ships off the ocean, that’s a huge benefit in terms of reducing sulfur dioxide in the air, and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Basically, if we can say we’ve got a way to transport goods from A to B that’s not only fast and efficient but clean—that’s really exciting.”

This plan is a vast distance from the negativity and nay-saying that accompanied Musk’s white paper. Tens of millions with a lot more to come are being invested in the future of the hyperloop by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, SpaceX in addition to Hyperloop One and others.

Very few are saying it can’t be done now, and the hyperloop does look like a matter of when not if. In addition to the speed it intends to travel, its environmental benefits make it almost look like a necessity and if these aforementioned companies can pull it off, the world could be a much cleaner and efficient place in the coming decade. The fact that the United States doesn’t have much in the way of high-speed rail is a bit of an embarrassment, but a network of hyperloops is a different animal.