An electric vehicle charges at a public station, July 2020. | Sarah Vogelsong/States Newsroom
By Jenni Bergal for Stateline
On two short stretches of road near downtown Detroit, Michigan transportation officials hope to make history.
Over the next two years, they plan to embed technology in the pavement that can charge electric vehicles while they’re being driven. The wireless system will be the first U.S. test of so-called inductive charging on public roadways, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.
“We’re the auto capital. We continue to push technology advancements,” said Michele Mueller, a senior project manager at the agency.
In some other states, including Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Utah, officials also plan to test inductive charging on public roads in the next several years.
“This is a great solution to a problem we have today of how to get to zero emissions,” said Tallis Blalack, managing director of the ASPIRE engineering research center headquartered at Utah State University, which focuses on electric vehicle infrastructure. “If we do this correctly, we can decrease the costs of transportation for everyone.”
Electromagnetic inductive charging is common in everyday life — setting a mobile phone on a wireless charger uses similar technology. On roadways, coils embedded in the pavement transfer magnetic energy to a receiver mounted beneath an electric vehicle to wirelessly charge its battery.
Eventually, wireless road systems could extend electric vehicles’ battery range, reduce the idle time required to recharge batteries and allow freight trucks to transition to electric by making it possible for them to use smaller, less expensive batteries, say proponents of the technology. They envision inductive charging along sections of highway across the country.
Drivers would use a phone app or vehicle control to choose whether to accept a charge from a road’s coils. Users would pay for kilowatts the same way they do at an EV charging station, though the system would be free to drivers during test pilots.
Blalack said the biggest challenge in getting to zero emissions nationally is figuring out how to move the 70% of freight that is now transported by truck.
Without an inductive charging system, it would cost an estimated $150,000 to put EV batteries into each long-haul electric semi, he said. Those batteries would weigh 20,000 pounds, a quarter of a truck’s payload. Charging truck batteries that large would require megawatt chargers to fast charge them, he added.
Inductive charging would eliminate the need for such heavy long-range batteries, Blalack said. Smaller truck batteries would require fewer natural resources to manufacture and would cost only about $15,000.
“We can reduce the cost of transportation for everybody if we have the infrastructure in place,” he said.
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