Wireless EV charging is finally coming to the nation’s highways, and that could help solve the charging bottleneck when millions of electric vehicles surge into the mass market. That includes electric trucks and buses, too. The Pennsylvania Turnpike, for one, does not aim to be caught napping. They are already planning for wireless EV charging on-the-go, with a solar power bonus, to boot.
Wireless EV Charging On-The-Go, From Dream…
CleanTechnica has spilled some ink here and there on wireless EV charging over the years, and it looks like all that hard work is finally going to pay off.
It’s been a long row to hoe. The US Department of Energy greased the wheels with a $4 million grant program for wireless, in-road EV charging 10 years ago, back in 2012.
The grant program aimed to build on R&D work by a team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In September of 2011 the team reported a system based on an air core transformer, which is a device that transfers radio-frequency currents.
“By reconfiguring the transformer and altering the resonance frequency, power is transferred to the battery with little energy loss and fewer demands on the primary circuit. The technology can be used for wireless charging of stationary electric vehicles in garages and parking lots or in-motion vehicles on the roadway,” the team explained.
ORNL researchers also developed a suite of complimentary technologies for their wireless EV charging device, including communication and feedback systems as well as hardware.
Things began to take shape in August of 2021, when the lab licensed its electromagnetic coil technology to the Brooklyn firm HEVO.
“The system provides the world’s highest power levels in the smallest package and could one day enable electric vehicles to be charged as they are driven at highway speeds,” ORNL explained, noting that the system is still in development.
The relatively small footprint is made possible by ORNL’s “Oak Ridge Converter,” which cuts down on the number of power stages needed to complete the transfer. The result is a wireless EV charging system that delivers a surface power density of 1.5 megawatts per square meter, which ORNL described as “eight to 10 times higher than currently available technology.”
As envisioned by HEVO, wireless EV charging on-the-go would lead to a scenario in which EV drivers arrive at their home or other destination with a fully charged battery, which they could deploy to power their appliances and other building systems.
“All of this functionality is built into a vehicle-side package the size of a medium pizza box and the ready-made capability to charge electric vehicles without a human behind the steering wheel,” enthused HEVO founder and CEO Jeremy McCool.
More Solar Power For More EV Charging
While all this was happening, planners over at the Pennsylvania Turnpike were planning for a rapid increase in the demand for EV charging stations along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. All together, the main line runs for 359 miles between Ohio and New Jersey. With the full length of Pennsylvania in the middle, the Turnpike fields more than 210 million vehicles every year.
The next generation of long range EV batteries will enable electric cars to make the whole trip in a single charge, but that is a long way off from the mass market. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is also a major truck thoroughfare, and all those trucks will need charging stations en route.
One advantage that popped up during the planning stages is the potential for solar powered EV charging along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Reporter Ed Blazina of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette got the scoop on that last week.
Citing a study by the highway solar consulting organization The Ray, Blazina reported that the Turnpike owns more than 5,400 acres of property with the potential for solar development, for a total capacity of more than 1.5 gigawatts.
That sounds like a lot, and it is, except that not every solar-friendly acre will end up hosting solar panels. The end result could be substantially less than 1.5 gigawatts, but that remains to be seen. As described by Blazina, the Turnpike is already working on a suite of solar projects including the eventual installation of in-road wireless EV charging systems.
The Long Road To In-Road, Solar-Powered Wireless EV Charging
To help shepherd its wireless EV charging plans off the drawing board, last year the Pennsylvania Turnpike joined the ASPIRE (Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification) program of the University of Utah. The program is a designated Engineering Research Center funded by the National Science Foundation.
The Turnpike has also partnered with the California branch of the fast-moving Israeli startup Electreon. The company has been working on wireless EV charging with Stellantis and Volkswagen among others, and it recently extended a pilot project in Sweden.
If you’ve been following the electric roadway planned for Detroit, Electreon is also the company behind that project.
Whatever Happened To The eHighway Of The Future?
The in-road wireless EV charging approach is just one solution for the challenge of fielding enough EV charging resources to accommodate millions of electric cars as well as trucks, buses and other heavy duty vehicles.
With that in mind let’s take a look back at the eHighway hybrid-electric concept under development by Siemens. The system is based on electric trolley technology, which deploys overhead wires connected to the vehicle. The device that collects power from the wires is called a pantograph.
A conventional trolley is confined to its route by the overhead wires. Siemens’s idea is to make the pantograph capable of disengaging and re-engaging with the overhead wires at will.
As a hybrid system, the eHighway would enable gas-powered vehicles to get from their location to the electrified route, and switch off their internal combustion engines once they hook up.
The system would be installed along high-volume truck routes, for use mainly by heavy duty vehicles. We’re thinking that the eHighway could also accommodate electric trucks, too, but that’s for Siemens to decide.
The eHighway concept first sailed across the CleanTechnica radar in 2014, as a pilot project in California. In 2016 the electrified highway system began trialing in Sweden, too.
Siemens has been quite busy since then. Last year the company launched another eHighway field trial in Germany, and our friends over at Urban Transport News report that India is on track for an electric highway as well.
If all this sounds rather pie in the sky, take a look at what’s happening in the space solar field. Those who warn of an EV charging apocalypse may have to revise their opinion.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey
Photo: Wireless EV charging device courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
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