#TIL: Roping in the power of gravity
By Adhnan Nazir Wani
Transportation fuelled by nothing but gravity! No, it’s not a reference to an act of jumping off the cliff. It’s the good old aerial ropeway, made with pulleys, trolleys, ropes and speed control elements. A brickwork factory in Lancashire, United Kingdom has been using this fuelless technology to transport shale rocks since the 1920s, saving on massive emissions.
Best suited for hilly terrains, it uses the basic principle of continuous movement in a closed system. Carts are clamped to a rope connecting two pulleys placed at different heights. A manually loaded cart is released from a high altitude, triggering its descent through gravity. A reactive force elevates another cart placed near the lower pulley for another round of loading, initiating a cycle. As long as the descending load is higher than the ascending load with a sufficiently high angle of descent, no additional power input is required, making it a net-zero emission transport mode!
Gravity-fed ropeways are more than 2,000 years old, tracing their origins from China, India and Japan. Used in warfare, mining, agriculture, factories and harbours in the past, its relative absence from today’s mainstream freight mobility is rather intriguing, especially considering its zero carbon footprint.
For India, it could offer interesting rural mobility solutions for hilly terrains with limited road connectivity and sensitive ecology. While the recently announced Hilly rural National Ropeways Development Programme — “Parvatmala’’ in the 2022–23 budget focuses on developing large electric powered ropeway projects, a provision for gravity ropeways could become a good plug-in for applications in freight transportation.