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Hyperloop firm expands to ‘Aerospace Valley’

Dirk Ahlborn, chief executive officer of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), speaks during the 18th Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Dirk Ahlborn, chief executive officer of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), speaks during the 18th Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) is looking to tap the expertise of aerospace experts as it works on developing the high speed transport system known as the hyperloop.

HTT says it will set up a research and development center in Toulouse, France which is home to aviation giant Airbus.

"This is where a huge part of our research will be done. The area is great because you have all the suppliers very close to you and talented people, it's a great opportunity," Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of HTT, told CNBC by phone.

The hyperloop is a concept many believe will challenge other forms of transportation, including airplanes, by moving people and cargo through tubes at speeds of up to 700 miles per hour. Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk came up with the idea for the hyperloop in 2013. Since then two firms, Hyperloop One and HTT have been racing to develop their own versions of the hyperloop.

While Hyperloop One says it will show a full-scale test run of its hyperloop system in the first half of this year, its competitor HTT told CNBC it is aiming to begin construction of the first full-scale passenger version this year, with development completed within three years.

HTT has reached agreements with four government entities around the world to study developing a hyperloop, including in Slovakia and Abu Dhabi. It also plans to build a version of the hyperloop in central California, though no date has been set for contraction.

The company is confident an R&D center in an aerospace hotbed will help it overcome the challenges of transporting people and goods in a tube at ultra-high speeds. Ahlborn told CNBC that it would employ 50 people in its new indoor and outdoor facility, as well as bringing on board individual experts and universities from the surrounding areas.

HTT uses a "crowdsourcing business model. The project has over 10,000 people who have day jobs at places which include NASA and SpaceX. They all contribute ideas to the project in their free time in return for stock options in the company.

The company recently raised over $100 million in equity and in-kind investment. This refers to companies who are physically making parts of the hyperloop in exchange for stock options, rather than investing via equity. Ahlborn would not comment on the exact valuation but said that the rising figure shows that people back the idea.

"The valuation has reached a point where some people that joined the company and are working in exchange for stock options are millionaires on paper. It's validated the model," Ahlborn told CNBC.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.