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The Use of Electricity and Magnetism in Transportation

Introduction

The use of electricity and magnetism in our future transportation has formed a subject of debate and research for many decades. As early as 1840s, the first linear motors were developed. A breakthrough in this technology was achieved in 1935 when the first practical linear motors were developed in Germany (Kirkland, 2007). Linear motors are important in enhancing magnetic levitation in modern high speed trains or what is referred to as Maglev trains. This essay will first analyze how the Maglev trains work and then explore how the concept can be applied for future transportation not only in trains but also in road systems.

Magnetic levitation has generated a lot of interest among many countries. In this system, electromagnets are used to create strong magnetic fields. The strong magnetic fields levitate the maglev trains above the track. This is in accordance to the magnetic principle which states that the like poles of a magnet repel each other while the unlike poles attract (Kirkland, 2007). The major components used in the maglev system include a source of power, guidance magnets and metal coils that run along the entire tracks.  The metal coils can be compared to the normal electric motors, except that in the case of maglev system, the motor is linear and extends the entire length of the tracks. Maglev trains are different from electric trains in that they do not have axles or wheels. In addition, they do not use motors for propulsion.

 

The entire track of the maglev system comprises magnetized coils which provide propulsion as well as levitation.  When alternating current passes through the magnetized coils, strong electromagnetic fields are created. Since the alternating current frequently reverses direction, the magnetized coils constantly change their polarity. These create push and pull forces that act behind the train and in front respectively, resulting from the magnetic fields. These forces keep the levitated train moving at high speeds of up to 300 miles per hour. The guidance coils are used to ensure that the train is always centered and hence difficult to go off the tracks. Reversing electric current in the tracks enables the train to slow down, stop, or even move in the opposite direction. Passengers are able to enjoy comfortable rides in such trains. With the introduction of computer controlled maglev systems, high speed trains are considered among the safest in the world.

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The use of electricity and magnetism has an advantage over other ways in that it eliminates the force of friction commonly encountered by the wheel and axle type of trains that are powered by fossil fuels (Brandon, 2013). The force of friction occurs when two bodies rub each other. Although friction keeps the train on track by enhancing the much needed grip between the wheels and the rails, the force tends to reduce motion. More power must thus be injected to overcome the force of friction which leads to fuel wastage. Maglev trains levitate on their tracks due to strong magnetic fields eliminating the force of friction. This is because they balance on air as they move at high speeds due to the strong magnetic force which overcomes the gravitational force (Brandon, 2013).

The technology involved in magnetic levitation is achieved by use of electric current and magnetism. One of the benefits in using this type of technology over traditional fuel-based technologies is that it is environmentally friendly. As earlier mentioned, maglev uses magnetism and electricity as the core sources of power. A maglev transportation system can thereby reduce pollution significantly. All over the world, traffic jams have become a huge menace especially in major cities. Traffic jams are a major cause of pollution in addition to increasing commuter time. A maglev system can significantly reduce the number of vehicles on roads and thus reduce environmental pollution. The maglev transportation system has already been implemented in some parts of the world such as Japan, China and Germany. Researchers assert that the maglev transportation system is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable, and thus the key to our future transportation (Gross, 2013).

The maglev transportation system is environmentally sustainable in that it requires less energy compared to other means of transport like buses. The use of electricity as the chief source of power eliminates the use of fossil fuels which have contributed much to climate change. According to Cheshire (2010), maglev transportation systems use half the amount of energy used by a commercial aircraft while still carrying the same number of people. Vehicles and airplanes emit toxic fumes (carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere which has been attributed to contribute to global warming and air pollution. Use of electricity and magnetism does not produce of the by-products making the technology environmentally friendly and sustainable. Use of electricity and magnetism in transportation has the added advantage of reducing noise pollution, typical with the modern means of transport such as buses and airplanes. For instance, in maglev systems the trains do not have any moving parts and thus generate minimal noise.

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Use of electricity and magnetism will greatly reduce congestion on our roads. This will eliminate traffic jams on most cities. The use of maglev system enables mass transportation of people within a short time and using the least amount of energy. Using electricity and magnetism enables trains to achieve extremely fast speeds. This is made possible by the fact that there are no wheels or moving parts which may cause restrictions (Cheshire, 2010). In addition, maglev trains have a high reliability level, over 95 percent. This means that they are capable of delivering people to their desired destinations almost always on time. Although the initial costs involved in the development of rail tracks are high, the benefits are high and extend over a long duration. The system can last for a long period of time and requires little maintenance costs. This is because ware and tear is minimal as the train uses levitation while moving through the tracks, reducing friction (Cheshire, 2010).

Despite the high speeds achieved while using electricity and magnetism as a means of propulsion, the new transport system has a high safety record. Maglev trails are less likely to derail compared to other trains as they interlock with the tracks (Stewart, 2014). In addition, maglev trains are monitored using computers and thus reducing the chances of collision unlike in airplanes and cars.  Maglev trains ride on the magnetic waves generated by the alternating currents, which also makes it impossible for two trains on the same guide-way to collide (Stewart, 2014). The safety benefits offered by maglev transportation system will encourage governments to invest more in electricity and magnetism as a means of transport. In addition, more people will use maglev trains as their preferred mode of transport.

 

As maglev trains take root on major cities around the world, tech enthusiast envision a world where future cars will have the capability to achieve magnetic levitation on special guide-ways (Barry, 2009). In essence, the cars will be able to use electricity and magnetism as a means of propulsion from one point to another. Such cars may be equipped with a dual mode system which will allow them to move on normal roads and still use special guide-ways where magnetic levitation will be possible. This means that the vehicles will be able to use rubber tires in conventional roads and shift to a maglev system when need be. Cars using the maglev system will be safe, fast, less noisy, and fuel efficient just like trains that use the maglev system. In addition, such cars will be easier to maintain since there is reduced wear and tear in a maglev system. A number of concepts have been formulated which may eventually lead to development of new electric cars which may dwell on the principle of magnetic levitation. For instance, some researchers have suggested on the possibility adding electric motors to existing roads. This will enable normal cars as well as those using the maglev system to use the same roads (Barry, 2009).

Development of tracks for maglev trains

The development of tracks for maglev trains has minimal impact on land due to narrow nature of the guide-ways. Moreover, the elevated nature of the guide-ways ensures that there is minimal impact on the environment during construction (Stewart, 2014). For instance, a guide-way which passes through a national park will still allow animals to pass under with no obstruction. Construction of such guide-ways ensures that minimal damage occurs to the land. The guide-way can also be constructed over existing infrastructure such as roads or other railway lines.

In addition to magnetic levitation technologies, research in other efficient technologies is also taking root. Researchers are looking into developing superfast trains, known as hyperloop trains which can reach speeds of up to 800 mph (Gross, 2013). The hyperloop design uses the same technology as maglev trains, but travels in vacuum tubes hence eliminating friction. In maglev systems, the train encounters air friction which slows it down. However in a hyperloop system, trains will travel through vacuum tubes (Gross, 2013).

In conclusion, the challenges presented by use of fossil fuels such as high energy consumption, air pollution, road space, environmental pollution and global warming can only be overcome through innovation and disruption of the normal ways of doing things. The development of maglev trains holds great potential to creating an environmentally sustainable way of moving people and goods over long distances and in the shortest period using minimal energy. Use of electricity and magnetism in transportation will significantly reduce environmental pollution and increase safety. Use of electricity and magnetism has already been successfully applied in trains. Nonetheless, the technology is yet to be developed in vehicles and is only at the design levels.

References

Barry, K. (2009). Magnetic slot cars could solve our transportation woes. Retrieved from             http://www.wired.com/2009/08/magnetic-slot-cars/

Brandon, J. (2013, Nov. 27). Five future transportation technologies that will actually happen.      FOX NEWS. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/11/27/five-future-        transportation-technologies-that-will-actually-happen/

Cheshire, G. (2010). Electricity and magnetism. London: Evans.

Gross, D. (2013, Aug. 13). Hyperloop vs. world’s fastest trains. CNN. Retrieved from             http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/12/tech/innovation/hyperloop-fastest-trains/

Kirkland, K. (2007). Electricity and magnetism. New York, NY: Facts On File.

Stewart, J. (2014, Nov. 18). Maglevs: The floating future of trains? BBC. Retrieved from             http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120504-the-floating-future-of-trains

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