Launch of first-ever US road that charges electric vehicles as they drive

The technology could extend the range of electric cars without the need to stop and plug in

Ethan Freedman
Climate Reporter, New York
Friday 03 June 2022 14:34 BST
Unrelenting high gas prices drives demand for electric vehicles

The first-ever wireless charging road for electric vehicles (EV) has been launched in the US as countries race to find ways to extend EV range.

The project in Michigan, set to open next year, will be just one-mile long – but if successful, this kind of charging could help EVs travel longer distances without adding additional batteries, and potentially increase the number of drivers willing to make the switch from gas-powered cars.

“You’re not going to fully charge a vehicle — especially, this is, you know, a minimum of a mile pilot project,” Michele Mueller from the Michigan Department of Transportation tells The Independent.

“But what it will do is extend the range for the vehicle so that somebody may not have to stop.”

The road works by using an underground energy system of charging coils that connect to the electricity grid and boost the lifespan of an EV battery as it drives over it.

But you can’t just drive your EV along the road and get a charge — the vehicle needs a special receiver for it to work.

When car passes over the coils, the charging system activates, allowing the receiver to capture the energy and transmit it to the battery, Stefan Tongur from Electreon, the company building the stretch of road in Michigan, tells The Independent.

The receiver can also rack up a tab so the vehicle owner could be charged for the electricity, he adds.

Without an activated receiver, the system doesn’t emit electricity, Dr Tongur says, meaning people and animals aren’t going to be electrocuted crossing the street.

And since each coil is individually connected to the grid, if there’s a pothole or some other breakage in the road that damages the system, you would only lose one small section of charging ability.

The charge per mile depends on the vehicle and how fast it’s driving, Dr Tongur says. However there’s a long way to go — and a lot of technology that would need to become standard — before this kind of system could make a meaningful difference for most drivers.

For one, electric vehicles would all need special receivers which don’t currently come standard.

Secondly, wireless charging roads would need to be ubiquitous. In addition to the Michigan project, Electreon is testing these roads in Germany, Sweden, Italy and Israel. Other companies and governments are also testing similar technology, like Magment, a Germany company, who’s working with the Purdue University and the state of Indiana on a similar project.

But the infrastructure would need to be rolled out far more extensively to make a dent in most people’s charging needs. Bus routes may be a good place to start, Dr Tongur says, due to the predictable, repetitive routes. Some of the company’s existing roads in Europe and Israel are focusing on buses.

Another potential application would be interstate highways where cars are more likely to travel distances beyond the range of their batteries, Daniel Sperling, a transportation researcher at the University of California Davis, tells The Independent.

Dr Sperling notes that there are other options for extending EV range. Battery swapping, for example, could see drivers pull over to swap out a depleted battery for a fresh one at sites similar to a gas station.

He said that questions remain over the potential costs of installing and maintaining wireless charging roads, and as the cost of more powerful batteries decline, there may not be as much need for this kind of technology.

If the new type of road network is going to work in the US, the Michigan pilot project will likely provide a first glimpse of the answer.

The state’s contract with Electreon was announced in February and is scheduled to be up and running in 2023.

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