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