Image courtesy of National Electric Highway Coalition Press Page
John Goreham's picture

With Wireless Charging Roads We Won’t Need Battery-Electric Vehicles

It may seem counterintuitive, but wireless charging roads would negate the need for expensive, heavy, battery-electric vehicles. Nor will we need a massive public DC fast-charging network. All we need are the affordable hybrids we already have in abundance.

Wireless charging roads that charge up an electrified vehicle are all the rage. Breathless reports in many leading publications announce that they are here! And they work! This is all comedy to this mechanical engineer who grew up, and still lives in Metro Boston, which has had electrified roads for most of the past century. As a long-time resident of an area with electrified roads, the first thing can tell you is that we don’t need pricey battery-electric vehicles to use them. Any hybrid can be made to use an electrified roadway. Without the expense of a big battery.

Electric bus image by Melike U.

Some Backgound Reading:
- New York Times: Could Roads Recharge Electric Cars? The Technology May Be Close
- Popular Science: Midwestern states are paving the way for EV-charging roads
- CNN Business: These roads will charge cars as they drive
- Intelligent Living: Roads That Charge Electric Cars Wirelessly Are Springing Up Everywhere!
- Auto Evolution: Sweden Successfully Tests Wireless Charging Road Set to Revolutionize Mobility
- Fox: Michigan launches pilot to build a wireless charging road for electric vehicles in Metro Detroit

What Are Electrified Roads?
Electrified roads as they exist today use overhead wires strung along public bus routes. The buses that use them are called trolleybuses. The buses have a wire that reaches up and maintains contact with the power lines. Prior to the electric vehicle enlightenment age, the MBTA operated 453 electric trolleybuses. Today it has 28 and can't wait to get rid of them.

The “new” idea in roadway electrification is to embed a charging system under the highway or major byway and have vehicles drive over it to be powered and even add charge wirelessly as they go along. This has so many hurdles before it can be said to be workable it is hard to know where to begin. Perhaps with the terawatts of inductive charging losses? The fact that we can barely make normal paved roads work in America or decide who pays for them? Those are good starting places. Making things a bit easier, we only have to electrify the flat and uphill sections. If EV truck maker Nikola taught us anything before its founder was indicted on fraud charges, it's that EVs can roll downhill unassisted.

Once we have the electrified roadways installed widely, we won’t need all those pesky and pricey public charging stations anymore. Or big pricey heavy batteries. Of course, we’ll never install wireless charging under every road. That would be crazy. Just the major ones. The ones through city centers, major traffic corridors, and long stretches of highway. Maybe the "Main Street" in most towns. Back roads and country roads won’t be electrified.

Toyota RAV4 Prime image by Kate Silbaugh

Why Won’t We Need Battery-Electric Cars Exactly?
The buses that run all over Metro Boston today are not “battery-electric buses.” They are just electric. Engineers in the old days were smart. They would never do something as silly as load up every single bus with a massive, heavy, super-expensive battery pack! That’s just ridiculous. Instead, the buses run their routes and use the available electricity from above. They don’t travel on other unelectrified routes. This won’t work with personal cars. So we need a small battery and a range extender for when our vehicles are not passing over an inductive charger.

Electric vehicles with small batteries that can move the vehicle for forty or fifty miles already exist. The Toyota RAV4 Prime is one such vehicle. You may have heard of it. The RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle outsold the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Volkwagen ID.4 battery-electric vehicles in 2021. Its sibling, the RAV4 Hybrid uses the same technology, but it has a much smaller battery. It can only move the vehicle a very short distance before it reverts to being a 40 MPG all-wheel-drive hybrid crossover. That model, the RAV4 Hybrid, outsold all of the battery-electric vehicles under $40K sold in America last year. And so far this year as well.

If we electrified the roads in Los Angeles and the San Fransisco Bay area, adapted hybrids like the RAV4 Hybrid could be used to drive on those electrified roads with zero local emissions. Just like battery-electric Teslas do right now. Literally just like they do. Slowly, in stop-and-go traffic, nobody enjoys driving in. The only difference is you would never have to charge the vehicle. If you’d like to be able to do all of your commute using no gas, opt for the RAV4 Prime. It can go about 42 miles without any gas at all. Once the EV range is used, it doesn’t become a gas-only car. It is a hybrid at that point. Plug-in hybrids like the RAV4 Prime don't need any public charging stations now. They charge just fine overnight using a 115 V receptacle. With wireless roadway charging they'd operate virtually gasoline-free without the expense and hassle of public chargers.

Affordable EVs - Short-Range & Slow Charging Will No Longer Be a Problem
For those who wish to forgo any gasoline use whatsoever, wireless roadway charging means that affordable vehicles like the 110-mile range MINI Copper SE BEV and 100-Mile range Mazda MX-30 BEV might be just fine. After all, for many miles traveled the car will not be using energy, but rather gaining it.

Related Story: 5 Plug-in Hybrid EV Myths Battery-Electric Purists Wish Were True

Where would America get the money to install all of these roads? Just print it. We do that now. If you’re old school and still cling to the idea that we need to pay for things, use the EV tax incentive money and public charger infrastructure money. We won’t be buying all those ridiculously expensive big batteries for every car anymore and we won't need to charge them. That should free up some imaginary dollars. Or bitcoins. Or whatever pretend money we use in the future.

If you want to save the planet, want zero local pollution, want to avoid the whole public EV charging infrastructure debacle, and don’t want to have to own a car with a big heavy battery that costs $15,000, start rooting for wireless charging roads.

Toyota RAV4 Prime image by Kate Silbaugh. Boston-area electric bus image by Melike U. Top of page image courtesy of National Electric Highway Coalition Press Page

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American news outlets and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin

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Quote from someone: "Fun rant."
It's funny because when you were asking about where communities were going to get the money for electrifying roads, and then you said just print more. I thought that you were going to segue into articles on printing inductive roadways, using giant roadway construction printers. It's experimental, but not quite science fiction. The greater point is that un-plugging EVs can only happen over a limited area, on major roadways and interstates. And of course you are going to have trouble changing the infrastructure from all of the people and industries that profit off of oil and competing businesses. Some cities are going to have to bite the bullet and set up an electrical roadway infrastructure in a small area first, and set an example. Charging roads were set up in Sweden, and now programs are underway in Michigan and Indiana currently as well. I think that some batteries will still be needed as a buffer, and to cover traveling in areas without charging roads. But it is a great idea to help move away from total reliance on gas and batteries.
Brilliant. Love it. I think this actually solves even more problems than you mentioned in the article. The ability for wireless charging roads to identify the vehicle that is being charged seems like a simple problem compared to some of the other hurdles it would take to implement something like this. If the roads can identify the vehicles that are charging, then municipalities and states can tax the hell out of EVs, eliminating the "we have to raise taxes bc gas tax just isn't making enough anymore with so many more efficient vehicles on the road" problem. The government doesn't even have to implement this. The electric company can collect the taxes. You weren't completely serious about just printing more money to fund this were you? Bc yeah, the fed does that, but it's a very bad idea for a number of reasons. More importantly though, this is a local and state problem, and local governments can't just print money. Here in Utah our legislature is constitutionally required to balance the state budget every year. But charging for charging ;-) just needs to be implemented like any other utility. The electric company already has some infrastructure there anyway. Your idea here also makes traffic enforcement easier. I realize there are some privacy issues that need to be worked out here, but preventing bad guys from being able to flee simply by cutting off charging ability to a particular vehicle is a pretty compelling argument. Especially when you consider that a good number of fatal crashes each year result from police chases.
You say you grew up near Boston, I live in MA also. What do our roads look like every spring? Answer: they are a just collection of potholes. If we can't build dumb concrete and asphalt roads that can survive a winter then can you imagine how a road with wireless charging would function after a winter. Trolley lines worked because the wires are suspended overhead, they aren't soaking in salt water.
Well said, BJ!
Wow. Such fantasy without a shred of practically. What do you suppose the efficiency of wireless inductive energy in a moving vehicle is? Do you understand inductive energy transfer at all? Run some simple numbers. Stationary inductive coupling at 4” distance is around 92% today. Dynamic coupling is likely close to 50% at best. So … take some kW of energy content per mile times the number of cars in that mile and then take half of that amount as lost energy. Clue: It’s huge. What’s next ? Put propellers on vehicles so they recharge for “free” as they roll down the road ? Wow.
No kidding, right? Why do Popular Science, CNN, the New York Times, and all those other respected publications noted in the story bother reporting on such nonsense? I do understand inductive energy transfer. No need to do any math, I put the energy lost to inductive charging losses in the terawatts (mentioned in the story). Although I have seen cars with propellers many times, I don't think they are aimed at energy efficiency. Mostly goofy boat/cars. Thanks for your comment, Rich. Please be sure you circle back to all the source links and tell them how dumb you think the idea they are portraying as a reality is.
Shall we consider it satire even when the author seems not to intend for it?
Not sure if I missed it or not, but a company in Idaho, Solar Roadways, is already working on projects to turn Roadways into ways to generate solar power, with the plans to add wireless charging into the network as well.
Nice try, hybrid vehicles still do use fossil fuels. Might be better to say "near zero", or ' close, but no cigar'.
"Near-zero" is a great term, Peter. Near-zero use of fossil fuels may well appeal to the majority of vehicle buying public, particularly those who live close enough to a diesel commuter train to smell it.
Yeah, right... the roads in many municpalities are literally falling apart but yeah, like they're going to have the resources to electrify roadways. Caltrain overhead electrification is currently running at over $2 billion for just 77 miles of an existing commuter rail line. On top of that, our aging electrical distribution infrastructure can't keep up with today's demands.