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Clean Transport

Wireless Charging For EV Buses & Trucks — Interview with WAVE CEO, Part 1

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WAVE (Wireless Advanced Vehicle Electrification), which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ideanomics, is developing wireless charging solutions for the medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sectors. I recently spoke with WAVE CEO Aaron Gillmore, who shared some of the projects WAVE is working on. Naturally, I also asked him what inspired him to get into wireless charging and what key problems WAVE is aiming to solve. This is part one of my interview with Aaron.

In this part we talk about:

  • How WAVE Came To Be
  • WAVE is addressing Key Problems with Wireless Charging Solutions.
  • Transforming Challenges Into Opportunities.
  • Charging Within The Duty Cycle.

Also note that we recently interviewed Aaron on CleanTech Talk.

How WAVE Came To Be

WAVE, Aaron told me, was founded in 2011 out of research on wireless transfer technology that was being conducted at Utah State University. WAVE quickly became focused on high power. The first system that was done, he explained, was 100 watts, which were powering things like light bulbs. It was very small scale.

“Through a lot of R&D and a lot of work, the company now has a demonstrated system that’s at 500 kilowatts. So, we’ve come a long way and focused on the high-power medium- to heavy-duty EV market because that’s where we feel the most impact can be had.”

He told me he felt that this was from the standpoint of both WAVE’s mission as well as that of an economic standpoint.

“It’s where it makes the most sense today. I sort of have the feeling that all EVs will eventually be operating on wireless.”

He pointed out that it’s not too inconvenient to plug in an EV at home or work. However, the impact that WAVE can have on duty cycles is where benefits from wireless charging come in. Duty cycles are where vehicles such as buses operate several hours a day. In these cases, there’s not a lot of time to charge, especially for the vehicles in the trucking industry where they drive at least 20 hours a day.

WAVE Is Addressing Key Problems With Wireless Charging Solutions

Aaron explained the basic concept of how wireless charging works and shared how WAVE is using this to help buses and trucks charge while on the go.

“Wireless charging with vehicles is really just the same basic concept that you’ve seen with an iPhone charger. When you run current through a coil, you can induce a current through a magnetic field. And you can induce a current in another coil that’s completely separate from the one that has the current in it, and essentially you’ve transferred power just via that magnetic field.

“People don’t really think about the term electromagnetism that often, but they’re kind of one and the same thing in a sense.”

Aaron, who has worked at SolarCity, Tesla, and BYD, where he worked as the head of the North American electric truck division, learned about these duty cycles that are part of the complexity that WAVE is taking on.

“I got a lot of background in what some of these duty cycles were and what the challenges were to electrify — to go from diesel to electric vehicles — and what wireless is really solving in a lot of that is especially you get to these heavier-duty vehicles and these longer-duty cycles. And with these heavy-duty cycles, you need a bigger and bigger battery.”

This is what the key concern is. The battery gets too big, from a space perspective, on the vehicle and it gets too heavy in some cases, he explained. For buses and trucks, this means that they can’t carry too much weight. He added that it’s the most expensive component of the vehicle.

“Maybe 40% of the cost of the vehicle — could be even higher than that, it depends on the vehicle and how much battery you’re putting on — all of this is a bit of a challenge. And as these fleets try and transfer over to electric, they’re faced with that dilemma.”

How will they get their economics to match up with that of diesel? Operationally, he added, it can be challenging, especially if the vehicle needs a bigger battery. It gets more expensive.

“The mentality right now is that you have to put this big battery on the vehicle to cover your complete duty cycle — whatever that is — all day. And then drive it back to a depot somewhere you can plug it into a charger. Plug-in chargers don’t look a lot different from a gas pump. People are used to this hand-held plug-in electric charger. There’s not really a reason for that to be this way because something like wireless charging does work.”

Transforming Challenges Into Opportunities

You can think about it as being free from both the pump and the cable, which transforms challenges into opportunities. One challenge is real estate.

“From a real estate perspective, you don’t have dispensers, cables. There are a lot of challenges logistically with trucks and buses. Where do you put the plug-in charger on the vehicle? Where does the dispenser sit?”

The Most Exciting Challenge To Solve Is Charging Within The Duty Cycle Itself

What Aaron is most excited about is finding ways to charge within the duty cycle itself.

“You can kind of get to more of a perpetual operation. And that’s kind of where the business sort of started. The biggest deal we’ve done so far that’s operationally is Antelope Valley Transit Authority. They used it there as a range extension opportunity. They only put wireless chargers out en route in various places, bus stops, transfer centers, and places where it wasn’t back at the depot.

“But they can extend range. They actually have a duty cycle where you go out all day and come back and charge at the depot. They have time overnight to do that. The problem is that they need to cover too many miles during the day and they couldn’t put enough batteries on the buses. So being able to charge enough even if it’s for five minutes, three minutes, ten minutes, or whatever it is at various places, gives them a boost of stored energy that they can put more miles in.”

Aaron noted that at the time, those batteries were able to give about 155 miles of range, and with the ability to charge en route, the buses are able to do 600 miles in a day on some of their routes. This was the first application that WAVE applied. This made Aaron and his team realize that anywhere you can place wireless charging within the duty cycle can change the mentality and allow the economics to be better for the operator. This, in turn, accelerates their willingness and ability to electrify their fleet.

Stay tuned for part 2, which will be published in part on CleanTechnica Pro.

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