Charging While Driving

The entire automotive world is utterly absorbed with building a better battery. The 500-mile battery has become the newest Holy Grail, the imagined solution to the inconveniences and anxieties assumed to be associated with current batteries’ limited ranges.

As the dark shadow of the Gulf oil spill has extended its ruination over a precious ecosystem, the search has intensified, symbolizing the urgency of transitioning the world away from oil dependency. The battery electric vehicle (BEV) is most certainly the answer to the ills of oil dependency but it will require drivers to learn to recharge after driving an all-electric vehicle (EV) 100 miles or switch to gasoline after driving a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) 40 miles. The 500-mile battery would make BEV-driving more like driving is now.

The transition to plug-in vehicles constitutes a revolution in personal transportation and – aside from ending dependence on coal for electricity, which the shift to BEVs will support – no transition today is more urgent. But according to Technology Improvement Pathways to Cost-effective Vehicle Electrification, from senior research engineers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, there may be an even better way to make the transition to electric personal transportation, a way that doesn’t require a miracle breakthrough in auto battery technology.

It’s called dynamic charging with inductive power transfer technology (IPT). It is as old as the concept of electric streetcars and trolley cars and as new as wirelessness. ::continue::

Charging on the move: An old idea born anew and wireless. (click to enlarge)

The idea is to build highway infrastructure with the embedded capability to connect to vehicles and charge them as they pass.

The NREL study evaluated 5 ways to make EVs – like the Nissan LEAF arriving in U.S. showrooms this fall – and PHEVs – like the GM Volt arriving in showrooms this fall – cost-effective: (1) opportunity charging, (2) replacing the battery over the vehicle life, (3) improving battery life, (4) reducing battery cost, and (5) providing electric power directly to the vehicle during a portion of its travel.

The study developed a model for BEV use that considered battery cycle life, battery size and the national distribution of driving distances. Considering the best current estimates of battery life and cost, only the dynamic charging concept was a way to make extended EV driving cost-effective for the consumer. Significant improvements in battery life and battery cost will, however, eventually make PHEVs more cost-effective than the hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and conventional internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) now on the roads.

If dynamic charging via a streetcar-like or trolley car-like connection seems impractical, it is because dynamic charging is different. It is based on a new kind of technological capability and a fact that came out of the NREL research.

The new kind of technology: Inductive power transfer technology (IPT) allows the car’s battery to be charged wirelessly via an on-board receiver as it passes by electricity generating sources embedded in the roadway.

The fact from the research: A very small part of the total road system constitutes the great portion of road use. Interstate highways are 1% of all roads but are 22% of all road use. Embedding wireless chargers in perhaps half of all roads would probably eliminate battery range as a factor in the decision to go electric.

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From HaloIPT via YouTube

This post is based on Technology Improvement Pathways to Cost-effective Vehicle Electrification by Aaron Brooker, Matthew Thornton and John Rugh (April 12, 2010, National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

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