The dream of an electric highway for your electric vehicle is nudging a bit closer to reality. We’ve covered some of the research into in-road wireless charging, and while that could be far ahead in the future, Siemens has already come up with a working overhead system, called eHighway, which enables vehicles to switch seamlessly from liquid fuels to electric power.
The eHighway Of The Future Is Now
The system has been tested out in Europe since 2011 and now it’s set to debut in the US, at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
We’re thinking that Siemens’ eHighway would be ideal for EVs like the Chevy Volt, a plug-in electric car that can run off gasoline or battery power.
You Volt owners will have to hold your breaths for a while, though. Adaptation for smaller vehicles is a possibility, but for now the eHighway system is designed for large trucks. The aim is to reduce carbon emissions in the ground shipping industry, especially in port areas where truck congestion generates a considerable mess.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District, which covers the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, spotted eHighway as a way to reduce local air pollution and invited Siemens over to check it out.
eHighway: Everything Old Is New Again
The foundational technology behind the eHighway is familiar turf to those of you who remember trolley cars.
An overhead wire called a catenary line supplies the electrical current. It reaches the vehicle by direct contact through a flexible pole attached to a rooftop device called a pantograph.
In Siemens’s hopped-up version, the pantograph can connect and disconnect from the catenary while the vehicle is traveling at practically any speed that local permit allows, making for a seamless driving experience.
More to the point, the seamless system eliminates delays, and the resulting traffic congestion and pollution, that would otherwise be caused by the switchover.
Although the whole thing still sounds cumbersome compared to in-ground wireless charging, keep in mind that eHighway is here and now technology. It’s a quick fix for pollution hotspots (the California eHighway demo is taking place in one of the worst areas of the US) and since it requires no adjustment to the road bed, installation is relatively inexpensive.
The California eHighway Demonstration
The California eHighway demonstration will consist of a one mile, two-way stretch of road, located on Alameda Street in Carson.
The demonstration is designed to showcase the system’s ability to handle electric drive vehicles that run on other fuels when not attached to the catenary system. That includes diesel, compressed natural gas, and “other.”
We’re thinking “other” includes fuel cells. Although that might seem a little redundant in terms of zero emissions, hooking up to the eHighway would conserve the hydrogen used in hydrogen fuel cells.
Now that Siemens has the go-ahead for the eHighway demo, it’s working with Volvo’s Mack Trucks subsidiary to develop a dedicated demonstration vehicle. Siemens is also counting on firms in California to provide retrofitted demo vehicles, aiming for a total of four. The company expects the demo to be up and running by July 2015.
On The Road To A Wireless Electric Highway
While Siemens tackles the low-hanging fruit of mobile EV charging in terms of feasibility and infrastructure costs, the Obama Administration isn’t letting any grass grow under its feet. In 2012, the Administration dedicated $4 million to kickstart R&D for wireless in-road EV charging.
The initial aim is to develop wireless charging for parked cars, but Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for one, is already envisioning an on-the-go system. That’s already a reality in South Korea, where in-road EV charging is being tested out on buses.
As for getting wireless charging up to highway speed on the open road for passenger cars, check out the wireless charging hookup between Qualcomm and Drayson Racing to see what could be in store for the future.
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