The Intertubes are all abuzz with news that Detroit’s Michigan Central mobility innovation district will host a mile-long stretch of electric highway, making the Motor City first in the nation to make the dream of wireless EV charging on-the-go an actual reality. The new venture is yet another feather in the electric vehicle cap of Ford Motor Company, which is a partner in Michigan Central along with Google and other stakeholders.
First-Of-Its-Kind Electric Highway Takes Shape
The dream of wireless EV charging on-the-go has popped up randomly on the CleanTechnica radar over the years. The technology for embedding EV charging in pavement is a tough nut to crack, but wireless EV charging is on the verge of becoming a real thing, and road-based EV charging technology is not far behind.
Detroit’s new electric highway began to take shape last September, when Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced plans for the nation’s first wireless charging infrastructure on a public road.
“This project reinforces my commitment to accelerating the deployment of electric vehicle infrastructure in Michigan and will create new opportunities for businesses and high-tech jobs amidst the transition to electric vehicles,” said the Governor.
If you caught that thing about new opportunities for businesses, that refers to new EV infrastructure that enables electrification stakeholders to test their wireless technology in a variety of vehicles under real-road conditions.
Michigan already provides the mobility industry with a large suite of testing infrastructure. If all goes according to plan, the new electric highway will attract and keep more business within the state.
“To date, MDOT has activated the largest vehicle-to-infrastructure technology deployment — nearly 600 miles — in the United States, including a first-of-its-kind connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) corridor,” the Governor’s office explained. “Michigan is also home to the most diverse collection of automated vehicle and drone testing environments in the world, more mobility-related patents than any other state, and more engineers per capita than anywhere else in the world.”
Israeli Startup Electreon Tapped For New Electric Highway
The Michigan Department of Transportation issued a request for proposals last fall. In an update on the new electric road system last week, Governor Whitmer’s office announced that the Israeli startup Electreon beat out the competition.
“Electreon will lead the design, evaluation, iteration, testing, and implementation of the pilot program, which aims to be operational as of 2023, working with NextEnergy and Jacobs Engineering Group,” the Governor’s office explained. “The project is currently slated for up to a 1-mile stretch of both dynamic and stationary wireless EV charging in Detroit.”
Specifically, the new electric highway will be located in Michigan Central, an innovation district in Detroit that partners the City of Detroit with electrification influencers, including DTE Energy and Google, as well as Ford.
Wait, What Is Michigan Central?
Michigan Central is the brainchild of Ford Motor Company, so let’s have them explain it.
“Ford’s vision for a 30-acre walkable innovation hub in Corktown is part of its plan to reshape the future of global mobility, working with key partners and suppliers and connecting to a broader network of city and regional assets and testing,” Michigan Central explains, adding that “Michigan Central will include new and revitalized buildings, a first-of-its-kind mobility testing platform, multiple outdoor plazas, open spaces and 1.2 million square feet of commercial public space.”
Well, whaddaya know about that. The Governor was none too pleased when Ford announced plans for its new Blue Oval City EV campus in Tennessee and two battery factories in Kentucky last year, but Michigan Central is quite the consolation prize.
“Michigan Central – a mobility-focused innovation district connecting innovators with Fortune 500 companies, government entities and others – announces new commitments with the state of Michigan, the city of Detroit and tech leader Google to continue creating a hub for mobility innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainability and community development,” Michigan Central explained last week.
“Google is joining Ford as a Founding Member at Michigan Central, focusing its efforts on training and educating people in Detroit for the high-tech jobs of the future and collaborating to solve mobility problems challenging communities,” they add.
The Electric Highway Of The Future Is Here
Electreon is a publicly-traded company based in Israel with the singular mission of commercializing wireless electric road systems. In this day and age of constant improvement in EV battery range and faster charging times, one might wonder why an electric highway might be needed.
That’s a good question. Individually owned cars and other vehicles may not get much use out of wireless on-the-go charging, but fleet vehicles will, especially those with multiple drivers.
“By significantly decreasing battery size, cost and weight and improving operational efficiency, Electreon offers governments, cities and fleet operators the most sustainable and cost-effective solution towards 100% global electrification,” the company explains.
Aside from bottom line benefits for fleet owners Electreon points out that an electric highway can provide holistic benefits in cities. Among the benefits, they list several points that are significant in the context of crowded urban environments that are already squeezed for space:
- No charging stations
- Saving land resources and visual hazards
- Leveraging existing infrastructure
- No need for new grid infrastructure and transformation stations
- Supports distributed renewable energy
How Does It Work?
The devil is in the details, but the bones of Electreon’s system are relatively simple. The foundational infrastructure consists of copper coils embedded in asphalt. A management unit transfers electricity from the grid to the coils, layered with information on vehicles on the road. All that’s needed is a receiver on the floor of the vehicle, and Bob’s your uncle.
Among several projects in hand, Electreon has laid claim to the first wireless electric road system in Germany, designed for an electric bus shuttle operated by Karlsruhe Transport Company, VBK.
The company also has projects under way in Italy, Sweden, and Tel Aviv, which have also been designed specifically for buses and other heavy duty use cases.
The Detroit project appears to be Electreon’s most ambitious, wide-ranging, and impactful project to date, so stay tuned for more on that.
With cutting edge innovators like Electreon on board, Michigan Central could enable the Wolverine State to claim back some of the clean tech spotlight it lost during the EV revolution, with Texas emerging as a leading competitor in the electric mobility field.
On the other hand, Texas is also front and center in a race to the bottom on voting rights and women’s reproductive health among other key social issues. If enough top talent seeks less repressive pastures, Michigan is waiting with open arms and a new electric highway.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: The Michigan Central innovation district will host the nation’s first-of-its-kind electric highway for wireless EV charging on-the-go (courtesy of Michigan Central).
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