As EVs have become more and more popular, owners have boasted about the joy of being able to plug their cars in at home and avoid trips to the gas station.
But what if you didn’t have to plug in at all? What if you could just drive and drive, and your EV would just charge as you drove it down the road? It turns out that idea is more than a fantasy.
Recently, officials unveiled a quarter-mile stretch of 14th Steet in Detroit’s Michigan Central Station Hub that can do just that.
The road features technology from Electreon, an Israeli startup that installed a series of copper coils on the stretch of road and then covered them in a layer of asphalt, making the street appear like any other stretch of American road. But when EVs that have been outfitted with a special charging receptacle drive over or stop on this bit of road, specially tuned magnets within the vehicle absorb energy from the subsurface coils and transfer it to the EV’s battery. And voila! A charged vehicle with no cables.
The magnetic technology, known as inductive charging, is a little like Apple’s Magsafe system that can wirelessly charge your iPhone or the wireless cradle you use to charge your electric toothbrush. Inductive stoves also use this technology, producing much more efficiency than gas or other electric cooktops. Electreon’s charging system, driven by magnetic field coupling, is designed to work over greater distances than your iPhone charger and stay consistent while the vehicle is traveling at speeds as high as 50 mph. Of course, going slower means that the vehicle will have more time over a given span of charging coils, allowing it to gain more energy in the process.
Because the charging coils transfer energy magnetically rather electrically, they are generally safer than other types of charging. The coils are activated by a password-protected account identifier in the moving vehicle. EVs that do not have an Electreon receiver will not be recognized by the coils, and they will remain dormant for non-authorized vehicles. If no receiver is present, no energy will be radiated, and the road is safe for drivers, pedestrians, and wildlife.
The system has been thoroughly tested to identify risks, establish best-practice safety routines, and manage energy transfer when a qualified vehicle is present. Electreon has had the technology evaluated and certified through many requirements, including IEC, ISO, SAE, CE, and ICNIRP/CISPR.
For some, roadway charging holds the promise of a 1,000-mile road trip without having to stop the car or wait in line at a charging station. In fact, Electreon has signed an agreement in France and Sweden to install long-haulage charging infrastructure on stretches of highway to prove the technology’s viability.
But for most, charging while stopping to use the restroom, stretching the legs, and grabbing a bite will not slow the trip substantially, given adequate access to chargers.
But the technology offers some real benefits for sustainability and cost savings. A road-charging system can completely transform how buses, shuttles, taxis, and other high-use short-range vehicles are used in an urban setting.
One of the biggest challenges for electric bus adoption is the size of the battery required to make them practical. In order to outfit a bus with enough range to operate for a long shift, a substantial amount of weight has to be added to the vehicle in the form of battery packs. Much of the energy that the bus expends is used to haul the actual batteries that power it. The large battery makes the vehicle much less efficient while also making it much more expensive.
And finally, with such large batteries, each vehicle requires a substantial amount of downtime charging for the next shift. Any bus or shuttle route that operates 24 hours a day would require two or three dedicated, expensive electric buses, with one or two charging while the other is in service.
With frequent roadway charging available for electric shuttles, a route would require only one dedicated vehicle at a time. Even better, a battery that was being charged frequently through wireless technology could be substantially smaller. That would make electric shuttles lighter, more efficient, and considerably less expensive to acquire and operate.
Similarly, giving ridesharing and taxi services the option to charge without taking a vehicle out of service for extended periods can help make those options much more cost-effective. The company estimates that it can reduce the battery capacity requirements of an EV fleet by 50 percent.
Electreon has been installing test projects in countries around the world, including Norway, China, Israel, Germany, and France. In the U.S., the company’s installation at Utah State University’s Aspire Center went operational last year, where 50 meters of charging roadway demonstrates how an inter-city highway stretch can charge the lithium-ion battery of a heavy-duty e-truck. But in December, it completed a major commercial project in its home country of Israel. The city of Rosh HaAyin’s latest bus terminal is powered by the company’s wireless charging technology. The $16 million project is expected to help reduce air pollution and increase the efficiency of the city’s public transportation infrastructure.
The transportation sector is responsible for 21% of the global emissions in the world. Finding new, innovative, and cost-effective ways to reduce that number is key to reaching the world’s net zero goals. Targeting the vehicles that are on the road the most and finding ways to reduce or eliminate their emissions is a path to some of the quickest reductions on that front. In most cities, those are buses, taxis, and rideshare vehicles. On-road charging can make transitioning from diesel- or gas-fueled vehicles to electric-powered ones more efficient and more cost-effective, and can be some of the most impactful dollars spent on a local level to reduce emissions. If Electreon’s roadway charging technology gains traction, the road to zero emissions might just be electrified.