• Jacob Bourne

EVs Boosted by Wireless Highway Power but Still Depend on Reliable Grid

Charging anxiety of many would-be or existing electric vehicle owners may be assuaged by the emergence of highway vehicle charging, but full implementation of the technology won’t be a simple task.



wireless highway charging electric vehicle
Conceptual illustration of wireless highway charging for EVs. Credit: Shutterstock

Limited EV battery ranges and spotty charging infrastructure can put a damper on road trips and create hesitancy around EV adoption altogether. Yet, a plan to outfit highways with coils that could transmit energy wirelessly to receivers on vehicles in motion has already become a reality in Sweden. Now Michigan and Indiana are moving forward with plans to roll out the transportation technology.

Michigan aims to become the first in the U.S. to develop wireless charging infrastructure on a public road. The state’s Inductive Vehicle Charging Pilot project is requesting proposals to implement wireless charging on a one-mile stretch of road in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb counties.

“Michigan was home to the first mile of paved road, and now we’re paving the way for the roads of tomorrow with innovative infrastructure that will support the economy and the environment, helping us achieve our goal of carbon neutrality by 2050,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Similarly, Indiana and Purdue University are embarking on a endeavor using magnetizable concrete developed by German startup Magment GmbH, enabling wireless EV charging while driving.

“As electric vehicles become more widely used, demand for reliable, convenient charging infrastructure continues to grow, and the need to innovate is clear,” Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Joe McGuinness said.

Efforts in Sweden are a bit further along. An Israeli tech company, ElectReon, has several projects, including its recent rollout of a wireless charging system on a 1.02-mile public road in Gotland, Sweden, Autoevolution reported.

The idea to power roadways for EVs has been around a long time, including testing for the Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH) program in California in the 1980s. However, building wireless EV highway charging infrastructure is expensive and labor-intensive, and EV adoption itself has been slow, making it a chicken and egg problem.

Cornell University, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Khurram Afridi, has been spearheading an approach to wireless vehicle charging in the U.S., saying that the technology is based on the same physics that allows radio wave communication between deep spacecraft like Voyager and Earth, but at a much shorter distance.


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In the Swedish pilot project, copper coils were installed under the asphalt, which automatically charge EVs equipped with receivers that drive over them. To do this, asphalt sections were removed and replaced, and the coils hooked up to the power grid. The system was tested with a long-haul electric truck that was successfully charged with an average transfer rate of 70 kW while driving up to 37 mph on a 0.1-mile section of road.

While greater EV adoption will help reduce the transportation sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, broad implementation of wireless charging highways will likely pose significant challenges. Although infrastructure in the U.S. and elsewhere is due for upgrades anyway, the impacts of climate change are already taking a toll. Intensifying heatwaves, floods, mudslides and other disasters leave crumbling, damaged roadways in their wake, including major transportation routes. New roads built with expensive technology won’t be immune to the new reality and should be constructed accordingly.

Additionally, the power grids that back EV charging stations are also crippled by climate change, age-related wear and mismanagement. Authors of a recent opinion piece in The Hill concluded that only a few hundred EVs could charge at once in a small town in the Midwest without causing grid failure and called for the building of a resilient energy superhighway that can deliver electricity to users across the country.

Once again, the U.S. is playing catch-up with Europe. Earlier this year, a plan was announced in Germany to connect the southern end of the country with renewable energy that’s mainly produced in the north. Siemens Energy will provide converter technology enabling efficient electricity transport over more than 500 kilometers via the SuedOstLink electricity highway. The energy will be transported via high-voltage direct current underground cables. As a result, up to 2 GW of electricity will be transported to sufficiently power more than four million households.

The Midwest would be a prime location for such a superhighway. A wind farm in South Dakota recently had to downsize by a third due to strained transmission capacity, Red Lake Nation News reported. Whether it‘s powering EVs, homes or businesses with renewables, full decarbonization won‘t ever be achieved without a fully improved power grid.


 

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