IronLev tests low-cost maglev upgrade on regular rail tracks

Ironlev Magnetic Levitation Test on Regular Rail Tracks
IronLev unveiled its new prototype at LetExpo 2024 in Verona, showcasing a successful test on existing rails. Images courtesy IronLev

In the quest for faster, quieter, and more efficient modes of transportation, magnetic levitation (maglev) technology has long been a beacon of potential. Traditionally, the implementation of maglev systems has been hindered by their high cost and complex infrastructure requirements. However, an innovative approach by Italy’s IronLev proposes a groundbreaking solution that promises to integrate maglev technology with existing railway tracks, potentially transforming the future of rail transport.

Founded in 2017, IronLev emerged from a collaboration between Girotto Brevetti, an engineering innovation studio, and Ales Tech, a startup born from a group of university students. This team previously garnered attention for developing a suspension system for the SpaceX Hyperloop competition. Their mission was clear: to leverage passive magnetic forces to create a cost-effective maglev system compatible with the world’s vast network of iron rail tracks.

IronLev’s technology relies on passive ferromagnetic levitation, a method that employs permanent magnets to generate a magnetic field strong enough to lift and suspend a vehicle above the tracks. This creates a “cushion of air” that eliminates direct contact with the rail, significantly reducing friction and wear. This not only promises quieter and smoother rides but also drastically lowers maintenance costs associated with traditional rail systems.

A pivotal moment for IronLev came when it successfully demonstrated this technology with a trolley platform carrying a Tesla EV, showcasing the system’s efficiency by moving a 2-ton vehicle with minimal effort. According to Luca Cesaretti, a co-founder of IronLev, the technology enables the movement of a 10-ton wagon with the same force needed to lift a 22-lb backpack, hinting at a dramatic reduction in energy consumption compared to conventional rail systems.

Ironlev Passive Maglev 1-Ton Prototype
The IronLev prototype, weighing 1 ton, uses magnetic skids to move friction-free along existing tracks.

IronLev’s most compelling advantage is its compatibility with existing rail infrastructure. With over 1.5 million kilometers of iron rail tracks worldwide, the potential for widespread adoption of IronLev’s system is significant. This was demonstrated in a test on a 2-km stretch of the Adria-Mestre route in Italy, where a prototype vehicle, suspended on magnetic skids and weighing a ton, reached a self-limited speed of 70 km/h without any modifications to the tracks.

Despite the optimism, the cost of permanent magnets, which contain rare earth metals, remains a concern. The global supply chain for these materials is predominantly controlled by China, posing a potential challenge in scaling the technology cost-effectively. IronLev, however, remains confident in its solution, planning to develop a 20-tonne vehicle capable of reaching speeds up to 200 km/h, marking the next step towards commercializing this innovative transport solution.

Ironlev Passive Maglev Prototype Magnetic Skids
IronLev explains that their magnetic skids enable vehicle levitation by directly interacting with standard railway tracks.

As IronLev continues to refine its technology, the possibility of integrating maglev systems into existing rail networks without the need for extensive new infrastructure could offer a sustainable, low-noise alternative for urban mobility. While challenges remain, the promise of IronLev’s passive maglev upgrade could herald a new era in rail transportation, making the dream of high-speed, low-friction travel a closer reality.

Ironlev Passive Maglev Test Run
IronLev’s newest prototype achieved a successful 2 km test run on existing tracks in Italy’s Veneto Region.

Source: IronLev