UK Highways Agency Confirms Electric Car Wireless Charging Motorway

It’s official: the UK Government has plans to electrify sections of the UK motorway network to test electric car wireless charging technology.

That’s according to the IET’s Engineering and Technology Magazinewhich says the Highways Agency has confirmed its plans to electrify at least part of an English motorway to better understand and test the feasibility of wireless power transfer.

Swedish automaker Volvo has already conducted some wireless road-based charging trials

Swedish automaker Volvo has already tested some wireless charging systems, but it’s not sure who will take part in the Highways Agency trials.

Confirming an off-the cuff remark made by a Highways Agency official at a recent ITS(UK) EV working group meeting, a spokesperson for the agency has said that the agency is planning a pilot wireless charging project involving passenger cars.

Currently, the only trials in the UK involving wireless charging have involved busses, with various projects — including one in Milton Keynes — focusing on static wireless charging. Essentially charging a bus while it waits at a stop, static inductive systems require a vehicle to be parked over the top of a specially-designed charging plate installed into the tarmac.

In this setup, a current flows through the plate, inducing a locally-targeted electromagnetic field which can then be picked up by a receiving plate on the underside of the vehicle, inducing a current flow in the receiving plate of the vehicle and thus transferring power.

RELATED: How Milton Keynes is Kickstarting Electric Bus Revolution

The proposed trial, the details of which are still scarce at the time of writing, involves placing inductive plates at regular intervals along a roadway, transferring power to electric vehicles as they pass over the plates.  This is known as a semi-dynamic charging system, since the vehicles are passing over static charging points on the road.

Cheaper to install and operate than a fully-dynamic system — where there’s a continuous inductive charging surface along the length of the road — the semi-dynamic system will be installed on a UK motorway at some point in the near future, the IET hints.

Because of the power used, the systems wouldn’t be used to charge electric car batteries from empty to full, however. Instead, they would operate in tandem with the vehicle’s on-board battery pack. In this way, the rate at which the car’s on-board battery pack is depleted would slow, resulting in far larger ranges without any increase in battery pack capacity or energy density.

While the Highways Agency hasn’t detailed the location of the trial, or how it will be implemented, it has issued a criteria for system adoption which includes a requirement that any inductive system is capable of lasting about the same length of time as the asphalt used to make UK roads. That equates to a lifespan of around 16 years of trouble-free operation, a massive target for an industry still in its infancy and where conductive charging stations — the ones you have to plug in to charge your car — still notoriously unreliable.

Wireless charging requires no wires between the charging station and the car.

Dynamic and semi-dynamic inductive charging relies on the car passing over charging pads embedded into the road.

By the time the Highways Agency decides on the location of the proposed trial, it’s likely a pilot project already destined to go ahead in Scotland this summer involving Transport Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis will already be well underway. Due to start in Glasgow later this year, the bus-based trial will focus on semi-dynamic charging of hybrid electric busses in the Scottish city.

At the same time, the European Commission has allocated a massive €9 million to research programs involving dynamic charging of electric vehicles, indicating we think that not only governments are finally starting to become convinced of the benefits of electric cars, but that they are wanting to develop ways of enabling longer-distance EV trips that do not require users to stop every few hours for a half-hour recharging session.

Don’t think though that this means either static or dynamic inductive charging technologies are years from launch. Like other pilot projects and government-sponsored trials, it will be likely decades before wireless technology is cost-effective enough to be installed nationwide.

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