Electric cars need to be charged which can take hours without specialist high-powered charging stations. But the need to charge at all might become a thing of the past if smart roadways can deliver power on the move.
Just like cars with internal combustion engines, electric cars also need regular re-fuelling. One of the key advantages of an electric vehicle is being able to charge at home after completing short trips. But it's those longer journeys for which innovations are being trialled.
The very surface that electric cars drive upon is now being looked at as a possible way to charge cars as they drive. An estimated 165 billion USD was spent in the US in 2014 alone on highway construction, operation, and maintenance, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That kind of budget can go a long way when trialling new ideas for roads and vehicles travelling on those roads.
Charging as you drive
Using the same electromagnetic induction capabilities that can detect when cars have reached traffic lights (along with charging your smartphone or toothbrush wirelessly), charging moving cars is technically feasible. An article in The Conversation explained how the technology works:
"An alternating current (AC) flows through a wire coil (the transmitter), which causes a magnetic field to switch between two directions at a high frequency. A second coil (the receiver) exposed to that magnetic fields picks up those oscillations, inducing an AC current in its own circuit, which is then used to power the car (or charges the battery in your toothbrush)."
A handful of companies have been working on the concept for some years. For example, the Online Electric Vehicle (OLEV), a bus developed by South Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, is charged wirelessly following a set route and has much smaller battery capacities than would normally be expected in a large bus. This has laid the groundwork for other companies who are seeking to create more generic solutions for all types of fleet vehicles and cars.
More recently, US engineering giant AECOM is getting involved, calling their technology 'Smart Powered Lanes'. AECOM suggests this technology will change the need for significant battery capacity within a car, just as OLEV showed. If can you imagine a future where a significant proportion of busy roads have this technology, it may be possible to drastically reduce charging requirements and even the size of the battery within the vehicle. Wireless power delivery isn't feasible for most applications - we can only do it for items that return to the same place. Vehicles can only go on roads and those roads are always in the same place, which opens up the possibilities - making it particularly feasible for fleet vehicles and taxis, for example.
Integrated Roadways is another company proposing to add wireless charging for cars, this time using pre-fabricated concrete called "Smart Pavement". The modularised concrete pavement is embedded with digital technology, sensors and fiber optic connectivity. As its 'smart' name suggests, the technology is currently focused on delivering near-vicinity WiFi to help autonomous vehicles navigate and monitor traffic.
And these aren't the only road-based innovations that are set to make EV charging easier and more convenient. In Germany, Solmove are also working on developing a solar-powered road surface that can inductively charge cars as they pass by. Other approaches to solving range problems in EVs include using big-battery trailers that can be towed to offer more capacity, or using overhead wires like trams and trains. There are also more fixed wireless solutions being tested as well.