Team touts underground ‘physical internet’

A group of British science professors and logistics experts are proposing a ‘physical internet’, zapping food and other supplies through underground tunnels.

Foodtubes, which includes an Oxford physics professor and several logistics planners, wants to put goods in two-meter-long capsules. These would travel through a network of underground tunnels powered linear induction motors and controlled by logistics software.

With 92 percent of the fuel used to transport food and consumer goods going to shift the vehicle rather than the cargo, says Foodtubes, there’s room for substantial cost savings and reduction in greenhouse emissions.

“Substantial annual savings, globally from one to four billion tonnes of CO2, and costs savings, with faster, targeted deliveries, could be achieved if the global food industry installed regional, and in due course, international, food pipeline systems delivering goods direct to supermarket and other loading bays,” says the group.

The problem, of course, is setting the system up in the first place, but Foodtubes says it’s done its math.

“A typical 150 km circuit, owned privately or as a public utility, may cost $500 million to install and will last for many decades,” says the group.

“Cargo-capsule charges could be five times less than equivalent road-freight and cost 90 percent less to transmit, making each circuit a highly profitable enterprise.”

Foodtubes says it’s developed a plan for one London area which would cost £400 million to build and make £80 million a year. It says it’s also got a major supermarket interested in the scheme, as well as other companies.