USA Today reports that Musk, the CEO of Tesla and rocket maker SpaceX, has acquired a massive tunnel boring machine from a Wisconsin company, Super Excavators. He's also using the 67-year-old company as temporary consultants to get started on The Boring Company's quest to dig tunnels faster and cheaper.
The tunneling company, based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, leased to Musk's company a machine that is several hundred feet long and 14 feet in diameter. It was made by Canadian company Lovat, a former Caterpillar subsidiary now under Chinese ownership, and has reportedly bored holes for sewers in San Francisco and a flood-control project in Indianapolis.
The machine now sits in the parking lot of SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, where it's been boring a pilot tunnel.
"They pretty much knew what they were looking for," Peter Schraufnagel, president of Super Excavators, told the newspaper. "It was the most shovel-ready machine of the size" they needed.
Musk has said he wants to lower the costs of boring tunnels by a factor of more than 10 by reducing diameter and increasing the speed of tunnel boring machines. He plans to do that in part by placing vehicles on an electric-propelled skate platform, which he says will decrease tunnel diameter from 28 feet for a one-lane tunnel to less than 14 feet. (Which is minuscule compared to the 57-foot-diameter Bertha digger from Hitachi-Zosen, which recently completed excavation of the waterfront tunnel in Seattle. It racked up a two-year breakdown and cost overruns along the way.)
Musk also wants to increase the power of boring machines and automate them, and devote more funding to tunneling R&D.
Musk has also pitched an idea to bore tunnels underneath Los Angeles to ease traffic congestion using the electric transport system, and the mayor seems open to the idea. The Boring Company is already testing a car elevator related to the project.
Super Excavators has its roots in the early 1950s and started as a plumbing business in the Milwaukee area. It began boring large tunnels using tunnel boring machines by the early 1990s and does projects that range from 4 feet up to 23 feet in diameter, according to a brief history published on its website.