Not at all boring

19 October 2021

We now know the details of The Boring Company’s much anticipated, inaugural Not-A-Boring-Competition final that was held in Las Vegas on September 12. The results make interesting reading. Twelve finalists used their custom-designed boring machines to build a 30m-long, 500mm-diameter tunnel as fast, as straight and as accurately as possible.

Competitions are an established way of generating new ideas and this one was no exception. The winner was the Munich University-based TUM Boring team. Its solution was a pipejacking hybrid that involved a ‘cartridge’ system storing four tunnel support pipes, rotated into place before being pushed through. The team won the accolades of Overall Winner and Best Guidance System.

But one wonders how scalable all the solutions are. My favourite was the ETH Zurich-based Swissloop Tunnelling team which won the Innovation and Design category. Its Groundhog Alpha bored the tunnel and lined it as it advanced with a 3D-printed, instant-setting, glass fibre-reinforced two-component polymer mix. The team claimed the 15mm-thick lining would be enough to provide structural integrity along the entire tunnel length.

Who is to say that RC segments and SCL will not in future be superceded by 3D printed, fibre-reinforced tunnel linings? It’s not that far-fetched, is it? 3D printing is now used in numerous applications in construction and other sectors. Even HS2 is using it, although not yet for the tunnels.

Whatever you think of Musk and his ambitious excavation claims, calling this competition was a master stroke that could bring real benefits to the industry over the long term. The inaugural event must have been inspiring: it attracted nearly 400 applicants from around the world. If the same level of interest is shown in future Boring Company competitions, there must surely be, at some point, someone or some team that comes up with a truly brilliant, usable and scalable idea for rapid tunnelling. When that happens, it could bring long-distance Hyperloop closer and even make trans-continental tunnelling a distinct possibility.

George Demetri Editor