Future Opportunities

Free tickets, green energy and clean water: How HTT can disrupt India

Source: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT)—one of the three players developing a futuristic train system invented by billionaire Elon Musk—has a lot to offer to Indian customers.

The California-based start-up recently submitted a proposal to link the financial hub of Mumbai and the western India city of Pune—one that would cut travelling time to around 25 minutes from 3 hours on an Indian Railways commuter line. It is currently awaiting approval from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

HTT's vision of ticket pricing, or rather lack of it, could be a hit in Asia's third largest economy.

"Depending on the population density, we could have a business model that allows you to make money without charging ticket prices. For example, we can sell excess energy to the grid as well as implement premium services, such as premium advertising," Bibop Gresta, HTT chairman and chief operating officer, told CNBC Asia on Friday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Global Entrepreneurship Community conference in Kuala Lumpur, he said the concept could be implemented in India for certain time slots, if the project is approved.

"Is a ticket still a viable way of monetizing users in the 21st century? Probably not. We are looking to humanize transportation."

HTT uses a technology called hyperloop that essentially transports passengers in special capsules, or pods, propelled by magnets through steel tubes at a supersonic speed of 760 miles per hour (1,223 kilometers per hour).

As the brainchild of Musk, who first announced the idea in 2012, it's a concept straight out of science fiction and has been deemed the "fifth mode of transportation."

Musk, whose interests span electric cars, solar power and space rockets, isn't interested in commercially developing the idea, so a number of companies, including HTT, have pounced on it.

Other players include Hyperloop One, which was recently involved in a lawsuit with former employees, and Hyperloop Technologies. HTT says it was the first to take on Musk's project in 2013, and claims that the other two firms named their businesses after HTT and used its logo.

Unlike the others, HTT utilizes a magnetic technology that allows its capsules to levitate and move. It is currently in negotiations for 20 projects across the world, including the U.S., Chile, Botswana, Egypt, the U.A.E, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Russia and Australia.

HTT claims its technology is cheaper to build than regular high-speed trains, which Modi's government has already been considering nation-wide. Next year, Indian Railways is set to begin construction on a bullet train connecting Mumbai to Ahmedabad.

"This can be the biggest opportunity or the biggest disaster for India … they can either choose the wrong technology and throw the country into the 19th century or bring the country into the 22nd century," Gresta exclaimed.

The consequences of such a decision will be borne by future generations, he added.

"If you can move people from city to city at 1,200 (745 miles per hour) to 1,300 kilometers per hour, you have a system that can reshape society," he explained, suggesting that as distances shrink, economic productivity could increase as traffic disappears.

UAE could become home to the world’s first Hyperloop system
UAE could become home to the world’s first Hyperloop system

Upgrading India's creaky mass-transit systems is one of Modi's top priorities.

In late November, an Indore-Patna express train swerved off the tracks and killed around 146 people in what was deemed the worst train accident since 2010, ramping up pressure on Modi to invest in new infrastructure.

Citizens in major Indian cities can see their life expectancy drop by two years amid environmental problems like air pollution, but HTT can help resolve that, Gresta said.

Because HTT's track is electrified, its transport system consumes tiny amounts of energy, while conventional high-speed rails require a lot of energy that is usually subsidized by the state, Gresta noted. HTT also employs a combination of renewable energies, including solar, wind, kinetic and for certain climates, geothermal.

"This combination allows us to produce 20 percent more energy than we consume. We are like a giant power station that happens to transport people," Gresta explained.

That's an alluring factor for an Indian government looking to reduce carbon emissions by 33-35 percent within the next 13 years

New materials are also being integrated into HTT's designs, including cement that absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen, vertical gardens around pylons, and a system that absorbs dew from air and releases water to farmers.

"We're also looking to embed a desalinization system so you can pick up water from the sea and clean it. When you have a pipeline and solar panels, you already have desalinization; you just need heat, which we have plenty of to harvest in the system."

Everything about HTT seems disruptive to conventional practices, even its business structures.

It relies on crowd sourcing platform JumpStartFund, which enables professionals across the globe to work for the company in exchange for equity. Gresta believes the model can better address humanity's problems as it is focused on problem solving.

"This is a better model because it doesn't need to play the capitalistic game," he said. "There's a radical reasoning behind this. It is about contesting the consumption model that is affecting everything."

Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.