Suppose you didn’t have to plug in your electric car to get its battery recharged. Ever again.
Suppose you didn’t have to plan your trip in 300-mile increments routed to places that had charging stations, where you had to cool your heels for 30 minutes or more while getting juiced.
Suppose, instead, you could recharge while you drove. No stopping. Keep moving along.
There’s no supposing. You can do it. Or at least you will be able to soon. Technology is being developed that will enable you to pull into recharging lanes in the city or highway to get electrically boosted while continuing non-stop on your trip.
The technology involves use of a transmitting coil embedded in the pavement that creates an alternating electromagnetic field picked up by a receiving coil on the bottom of the vehicle and
converted to electricity to charge its battery.
Trials are underway worldwide, as roads are being torn up to install the under-the-pavement pads. French automaker Renault is testing the technology on the streets of Paris. It’s also being piloted
in Tel Aviv and throughout Sweden.
Several variations are in play. For example, overhead recharging for buses is being evaluated by the Israelis. Surface pads will be offered by BMW for wireless charging in parking lots or home use.
Buy one and flop it down in your garage.
A side benefit is that the massive and costly batteries on EVs can be significantly reduced in size. And smaller batteries mean lighter and less expensive cars and trucks.
As with most new technology, there are downsides, most importantly cost. Electrifying roads are expensive. Volkswagen’s Scania Division estimates a cost of $2.5 million per kilometer of highway, and that doesn’t include hook-up to the grid. And the vehicles themselves will have to be redesigned and production lines retooled to accommodate the receiving coils.
Nonetheless, work is moving ahead. Scania is preparing to mass-produce a line of dynamically charged trucks, while Swedish authorities plan to electrify 2,000 kilometers of roads by 2030.
It will take awhile for this to go mainstream. While we wait, the old-fashioned plug-ins are poised for explosive growth. Why? Cost of producing the lithium battery, now down to $126 per kilowatt-hour, is expected to reach $80 kWh by 2025, according to Carnegie Mellon engineers.
That will make EV driving cheaper than transportation powered by the combustion engine. Solid-state batteries could drive the cost even lower.
That’s good news for those concerned about climate change. Twenty-three percent of greenhouse gases come from transportation, largely from auto, truck and plane exhausts. Eliminating those emissions would cut the 23% to as little as 10%, according to government estimates.
To make this happen the auto industry is moving at breakneck speed. While Tesla leads the pack, General Motors, Ford, China’s NIO and particularly Volkswagen have made huge commitments
to electric, each investing billions in new production facilities.
Ford and Volvo plan to phase out all gas vehicles by 2030, GM and the Japanese automakers by 2035. Batteries will replace the combustion engine. Over a dozen new EVs will hit U.S. showrooms this year, 35 by 2023 – that’s two years from now.
According to Chemical & Engineering News, that kind of commitment will put 900 million all-electric vehicles on the road by 2040, an astonishing 400-fold increase in 20 years. And that’s without wireless recharging, which will spur even faster growth.
What’s coming next? Autonomy – EVs that drive themselves. We are already seeing long-distance trucks, microbuses and small delivery vans that operate without drivers. Within ten years they
will be commonplace. And after that? Flying taxis. Hail one with your smartphone.
Dr. Trecker is a chemist and retired Pfizer executive living in Naples.