This article is part of the Future of Transportation series, which explores innovations and challenges that affect how we move about the world.
Electric vehicles are getting a lot of attention. Electric vehicles are expected to make up less than 4% of passenger vehicle sales in the United States in 2021.
Range anxiety is a reason for the inability to easily replenish on long trips. The concern is valid, that range, charging time and availability of charging stations all still have a long way to go.
A $7.5 billion initiative signed by the president earlier this month will help build a nationwide network of 500,000 high-speed electric vehicle charging stations by 2030. The U.S. Department of Energy says there are about 43,000 charging stations.
It would only solve part of the problem because charging times are still lengthy. In the next decade, the real change may be the use of a technology known as inductive charging on the roads.
The world's first concrete pavement segment will be developed by the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Purdue University.
The project is being undertaken by an engineering research center. The National Science Foundation funds it.
Range anxiety is one of the major barriers to electrification. The technology is intended to solve the problem, according to a professor at the school. The vision is to bring the charge to the vehicles, rather than having the vehicle stop at charging stations.
The German company Magment developed a concrete technology that will allow for wireless charging of electric vehicles.
The technology works by adding small particles of recycled ferrite to a concrete mixture which is magnetized by running an electrical current. The magnetic field created by this creates a wireless power source.
A plate or box made of the patented material is buried inside the roadway at a depth of a few inches. Dionysios Aliprantis, a professor at the Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue, explained that the transmitter is the coil of wire that connects to the power grid.
Concrete or asphalt surrounds the transmitter. The transmitters would be embedded in the road one after the other. The receiver is a smaller box that is attached to the underside of a car.
MagPad is a wireless power transmitter pad which can be installed on-ground or in-ground. The transmitters can be installed at public parking lots.
The project will test the pavement through analysis and research at the Indiana Department of Transportation Accelerated Pavement Testing facility in West Lafayette. The first test will apply pressure on the roadway segment to see if trucks will drive on it.
The second test will look at the ability of the system to transfer high-levels of power. There is a difference between the idea of charging with a 10-to-15-inch gap between the transmitter and receiver and the idea of charging with a wireless device.
He said that the cellphone touches the surface to charge. The power transfer and the air gap are weakened if we increase them.
Within the next two years, the Indiana Department of Transportation will build a quarter mile-long test bed to examine the capacity of the roadway to deliver high power to trucks.
Ms. Gkritza said that they want to take it slowly. The goal is to have a longer test on one of the interstates within four to five years.
The cost toelectrify roads in both directions varies widely, from $1.1 million to $2.8 million per kilometer, according to projections made in the last three years.
Indiana is not the only state in the race. In September, Gov. of Michigan announced a new initiative to develop the nation's first wireless charging infrastructure on a public road and said the state is looking for partners to help develop and deploy the technology.
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation says that the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification are working on a project. A one-mile stretch of road will be covered by the pilot. Utah State University is working on inroad wireless charging, which uses inroad coils to transmit energy to inroad EV batteries.
Magnetized cement? Chris Nelder, an energy analyst and consultant, and former manager of the EV grid integration group at the Rocky Mountain Institute, said that it was crazy. I would love to see it work. This technology would need cars to be re-designed to use it as well as the actual implementation of the charging capability. The need to redesign the cars is not trivial.
Mauricio Esguerra, chief executive and co-founder of Magment, said that a big challenge is on the vehicle side. The automotive industry is so busy with making batteries, making software, so that confronting them right now with inductive charging is far away. The project's spirit is to focus on the technical challenges of demonstrating that it works.
The electric road of the future may be slowed by other challenges. Inroad charging while driving is not likely to be a broad solution for all electric vehicles, but it could play an important role for some applications.
Most drivers won't need public charging except on rare long-distance travel days because the EV range is large enough.
There is a bigger problem that can be solved by these roads. Inroad charging aims to address a real problem with electric trucks. Electric trailer trucks require large battery packs that reduce the amount of cargo they can hold, inroad charging could help, but the amount of long-distance travel would require a huge investment in infrastructure.
All of the weight and weather abuse that tears up our roads today will need to be stood up. He said that inroad charging infrastructure could be targeted to select locations, such as bus stops or fleets with fixed routes.
The team is optimistic despite the challenges. The technical obstacles that need to be overcome are not impossible. Those can be overcome with proper design.
He said there are regulatory barriers. If you are not a utility in Indiana, you cannot resell electricity. If you are the roadway operator, you can't charge the vehicles for electricity. There are obstacles to using the interstate right of way to install this infrastructure. There are certain regulations that need to be changed before this becomes a reality.
Electric grids will need to increase capacity in order to cover demand. If we want to implement this technology at scale, we need a significant amount of power to charge big vehicles at freeway speeds.
It is the start of the road trip for the project.
We see this technology as an opportunity to align with the vision of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration of alternative fuel corridors along major national roads. We are not suggesting that all roads be 100 percent electric.