In-Road Vehicle Charging: The Future Is Almost Here

March 1, 2022

In-Road Vehicle Charging: The Future Is Almost Here

Let’s talk about some alarming facts. Transportation is the leading cause of emissions in the U.S. In fact, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all of our emissions. Living near a busy street or highway can cause serious adverse health effects like asthma, cardiovascular disease, or premature death. The Biden Administration is making it a priority to try to slow down some of these negative effects. In an extensive article on the administration’s website, it outlined its goals towards creating a cleaner future, citing sustainable infrastructure as a crucial component, and targeting net-zero emissions by 2050.

Electric car drive on the wind turbines background. Car drives along a mountain road. Electric car driving along windmills farm.

Electric vehicles (EVs) will play a key role in these efforts; they don’t require fuel, and they don’t emit nasty pollutants through their tailpipe. While there are drawbacks to EV production, such as lithium battery sourcing, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. EV ownership is rising massively; in fact, one out of every 40 new cars sold in 2019 was electric. This number may seem small but it’s increasing every day. Some estimates even show that EV sales will grow by 50% this year. Automakers like GM have even pledged to produce 30 new EVs globally within the next five years; Volvo is likewise making a commitment to go fully electric by 2030.

Charging modern electric car on the street which are the future of the Automobile

With all that EVs have to offer- why aren’t we seeing faster proliferation? Simply put, the infrastructure isn’t there. In 2019 there were 7.3 million charging stations worldwide, of which 89% (6.5 million) were slow-chargers in homes. As of today, most EV’s have limited range and a relative paucity of non-home rapid charging stations. Some electric cars can now drive for 200 miles before recharging – but that will barely get you from New York City to Washington DC.

Sure we could focus our energy on building more charging stations, but there’s a smarter solution available to us: Inductive wireless charging. This is a method of charging that uses electromagnetic induction to transfer energy. Remember when Apple released the wireless charger for iPhones? We’re talking about that but on a much larger scale. What does this look like in practice? Underneath a roadway, magnetic lines are buried that induce an electric current to charge vehicles traveling over them. This very concept is being tested today.

In September 2020, the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality in Israel, announced that it’s piloting a solution for wireless vehicle charging. The municipality partnered with wireless charging company, ElectReon, and Israeli bus operator, Dan Bus Company, to launch a pilot project installing 600 meters of under-road electric infrastructure. The pilot aims to enable specially-equipped electric buses to travel along a distance of two kilometers (1.2 miles).

Electric road construction in Tel Aviv Israel

Another startup called Elonroad (no relation to Elon Musk) is pioneering another electric road technology using an above-road charging system to charge vehicles in the street or on the highway. The concept includes a metal rail embedded into the asphalt to transmit up to 300 kilowatts of electric charge. The company is testing out this solution in Lund, Sweden using a conductive rail on a kilometer-long stretch of road, called Evolution Road.

The pilot projects in Israel and Sweden show us that in-road charging is a true possibility. Today we have a ‘perfect storm’ – a pandemic, requiring job creation and infrastructure spending; climate crisis, wreaking havoc; and a new US Administration, obligated to tackle and reduce emissions. In-road charging offers an attractive policy, a possible answer and centerpiece of these three ‘storms’. Let’s bring these pilot programs to the US. This is the time for an innovative city in the US to pioneer this technology for their city.