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I know lasers can cut or create holes on some hard materials such as diamond and metals. Is there any similar concept in tunnel engineering?

If not, what are the difficulties?

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  • $\begingroup$ Pl. refer to the below link laserfx.com/Science/Science5.html. Where it is mentioned that , In digging underground, the centre of a tunnel can be kept accurately aligned with a laser beam. But i am not sure if we use for creating tunnels. $\endgroup$ – shri Sep 9 '15 at 6:03
  • $\begingroup$ Most moles in the United States now use a laser beam to guide steering, and some experimental machines employ electronic steering actuated by the laser beam as mentioned in the below url britannica.com/technology/tunnel. $\endgroup$ – shri Sep 9 '15 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to engineering SE. I am certain that there are wide range of difficulties depending on the application. It would not be too difficult to generate an exhaustive list. May I suggest that you review [ Engineering beta > Help Center > Asking Question](engineering.stackexchange.com/help/asking) and edit the question to be line with the community guidelines. $\endgroup$ – Mahendra Gunawardena Sep 9 '15 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ If you would be talking about trying to use the laser as the cutting implement, a major difficulty is that materials which are cut by lasers tend to form plasmas which are largely opaque to laser light. Consequently, the energy required to bore a hole through a certain thickness of material is not linear with respect to thickness but increases prohibitively as more and more energy gets absorbed by the plasma rather than the material to be cut. $\endgroup$ – supercat Jan 1 '17 at 21:30
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First is power those cutting lasers usually make relatively small cuts and take quite a bit of power and time. Scaling that up means waiting for a few decades to move a few meters if you can't get more power.

Second is conservation of mass. All that rock has to go somewhere. If you use a laser it will evaporate. No-one wants to be breathing metal fumes in an enclosed space. They will also cool off again and deposit themselves everywhere.

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Barring other difficulties, it is unclear what advantages laser cutting would have in such an application. Lasers are useful in drilling/cutting of materials because of their high precision and ability to make very small cuts. Digging a tunnel is not a precision activity though.

Even if a tunnel drilling machine were set up to use lasers, the cut between the bore and the tunnel wall would have a very small separation (~1 mm), and a massive amount of equipment would still be needed to remove the rest of the material from the bore.

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