Happy days for electric vehicle owners are just around the corner: the U.S. Department of Energy is revving up wireless EV charging systems with a new round of $4 million in funding through its Vehicle Technologies Program. The initial goal is to get a wireless EV charging system for parked cars into the mass market within the next ten years, but DOE isn’t stopping there. Ultimately, the agency expects to accelerate the development of road-based wireless systems that will enable you to grab a charge while cruising down the highway.
The ripple effect of wireless EV charging
The immediate goal of the funding program is to raise the consumer attraction level of EV’s. Charging up an EV while parked at home or at a workplace is convenient enough but on the road the experience is pretty similar to gassing up: no matter what the weather, you have to get out of the car (unless you live in a no self-serve state). For most drivers, a wireless, hands-free charging system would mark a truly major difference between EV technology and conventional gasoline vehicles.
In terms of national energy and environmental policies, when coupled with the adoption of solar power and other forms of renewable energy more EV’s on the road will mean less reliance on fossil fuels, lower greenhouse gas emissions and cleaner air for metro areas.
Wireless charging, especially road-integrated charging, also helps to reduce the need for bulky on-board energy storage equipment. That in turn will help manufacturers develop lighter, less expensive and more efficient vehicles with a smaller lifecycle footprint.
Closer than you think to wireless charging
Wireless charging is already in development for small devices, and last year GM announced that the Volt EV will be equipped with wireless charging capability for portable electronics.
Charging an entire vehicle without a plug and socket is a much taller order, but Hertz for one is already testing wireless EV charging in the U.S., and a wireless charging test has been under way in London for the past few months.
Grab-n-go EV charging
For a nation on the go, being able to “refuel” your car while cruising down the highway is a nifty piece of multitasking. Unfortunately that’s some time off in the future, but on the positive side a team of researchers at Stanford recently announced that they have found a workable path to nonstop wireless charging based on magnetic fields.
Under that system, depending on the length of the trip, the vehicle’s speed and road conditions you could begin a journey with less than a full charge, and reach your destination with more juice in the tank than when you started.
Aside from working out technological issues, the expense of embedding the system in roadways is a major obstacle, but cost-effectiveness could be
Image: Courtesy of U.S. DOE
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.