The term ‘plug-in car’ has become synonymous in recent years with both battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars, thanks to the fact that both types of vehicles are charged by plugging them into dedicated electric vehicle charging station or portable ‘brick’ connected to a regular household outlet.
Indeed, it’s a term we use freely on this site as blanket way of referring to any vehicle with an on-board traction battery pack that is charged from mains electricity — and then uses that electricity to power the vehicle either exclusively or in concert with an internal combustion engine.
But in a new video launched recently, Japanese automaker Nissan teases a point in the not-too-distant future where electric vehicles no-longer need to plug-in in order to replenish their battery packs. Instead, they simply park over a wireless inductive charging pad, receiving power through the wonders of electromagnetism.
In the twenty-second video, Nissan asks a very simple question: “What is the fuel station of the future?” It then answers it by showing a Nissan LEAF electric car pulling up at a kerbside parking space. The video pans below the car, and we see a kerbstone with a narrow line of green light surrounding it — barely noticeable at first — change to blue as the car passes over it.
At the same time, a light embedded into the kerbstone illuminates with the word “Nissan,” and the viewer is left to infer that the car is now charging itself wirelessly.
While no production electric vehicles are available with wireless inductive charging at the time of writing, wireless charging itself isn’t new. First-generation electric cars like the 1998-2002 Toyota RAV4 EV, Ford Ranger EV, GM EV1, and Chevy S10 Electric all made use of charging paddles rather than physical plugs to charge themselves. While owners had to physically ‘plug’ an inductive charging paddle into a slot on the front of their vehicle to initiate the charging process, no electromechanical connection existed between the charging station and the car.
Instead, a small coil of wire sealed inside the charging station paddle inducted an electromagnetic field when current passed through it. That in turn induced an electrical current flow in an identical coil of wire located inside the vehicle’s paddle port, transferring power from charging station to the car.
While the system was more complex than an electromechanical connection, it ensured protection from the outside elements, electrical insulation at all times, and made it reasonably hard wearing. But thanks to its complexity over an old-fashioned plug, combined with limitations over the rate at which power could be transferred, conductive charging won the day for the generation of electric cars and plug-in hybrids which have hit the market in the past five years or so.
In recent years however, advances in wireless charging technology — specifically the advancement of wireless resonance inductive charging systems — have made wireless inductive charging technology far more powerful and energy efficient than before. Since resonance inductive charging can operate over a larger distance, it’s become more practical to develop wireless inductive charging systems which operate over the air gap between the underside of an electric vehicle and the ground.
Back in November, Nissan hinted that wireless inductive charging could soon come to its all-electric LEAF when it gave a tour of its Atsugi technical centre in Japan ahead of the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. There, it showed off a 60 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack with the same physical dimensions as the 30 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion pack used in high-end variants of the 2016 Nissan LEAF. It also showed off a 7 kilowatt inductive charging system capable of adding around 30 miles of range per hour to a current-generation Nissan LEAF.
It’s that same technology which features in Nissan’s teaser video, something Nissan hints could be used one day to “easily accommodate overnight charging for a larger battery pack — like the 500km, 60kw [sic] pack that is currently in development at the company’s Research and Development headquarters.”
It is, says Nissan, the first glimpse of what it envisions the Fuel Station of the Future to be like. We think it envisions a future where electric vehicles are so ubiquitous that a large number of parking spaces feature wireless charging technology — and most importantly — where looking for a place to charge is as simple as finding a parking space.
But as we’ve said before, wireless charging, at least for the next few years, will remain a curiosity rather than a standard feature on cars. And given the challenges that face the charging industry to build, maintain and operate conductive charging stations with a degree of reliability, we’re not sure the marketplace is ready for another complication yet.
To find out for ourselves, we’ll soon be undertaking a six-month trial with the Plugless Power wireless inductive charging system to see if inductive charging really is the future for electric vehicles, so make sure you follow our progress to find out.
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