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Electrified highways could one day power electric vehicles on the road

Electrified Pavement
Posted at 10:33 AM, Jun 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-28 11:21:40-04

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — With fuel costs breaking the bank, you might be considering buying an electric vehicle. For those worried about traveling long distances between charges, range anxiety could be a deterrent. But scientists are trying to address that.

Inside the accelerated pavement testing facility at Purdue University, engineers are applying pressure on a segment of concrete and asphalt.

“What we're exploring first is toward heavy-duty vehicles. So, class eight and class nine, large-scale trucks,” said Steve Pekarek, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Purdue University.

It simulates the weight of trucks passing over to determine the material's durability.

Engineers at Purdue are working with the Indiana Department of Transportation to develop the world’s first wireless charging highway.

“If it works well, the benefit is to be able to put that in the pavement and actually charge your vehicle as you drive down the road,” said John Haddock, professor of civil engineering at Purdue University.

Embedded in the roadway are electrical coils that deliver contactless power through magnetic fields. A transmitter sends energy up to a receiving core inside the vehicle.

It works a lot like a wireless phone charger.

“At this power level, it's very different than that little pad that you put your phone on. But it's the exact same idea,” said Aaron Brovont, a research assistant professor at Purdue University’s school of electrical and computer engineering. “The whole idea is if you can charge your car on the road while in motion, then you're basically riding for free. You know, you're not spending any energy while you're going down the road.”

The National Science Foundation funds the project. Part of the goal is to address range anxiety.

“You don't get out on the interstate and think, 'Oh, my gosh, where's the next gas station? Am I going to be able to make it?’ In this case, we're trying to do that same thing with electric vehicles,” said Haddock.

Instead of stopping to charge the electric vehicle, the charge comes to you while you drive.

“It's connected, of course, to the grid. It'll be connected electrically to the side of the road to the electrical grid, but it won't be connected to the car. That's all done through the air underneath the vehicle,” said Brovont.

In addition, the constant power source could help reduce the size and weight of batteries needed inside the vehicle.

“Which means you reduce the cost. That's a big driver. You also reduce mass. You reduce the recycling needs,” said Pekarek.

This technology could be especially helpful for long hauling semi-tractor trailers. Right now, battery packs are so big that they cut into load capacities.

“When we get it to work correctly, those trucks will have smaller batteries,” said Haddock. "So, they'll be able to still carry as much useful load as they ever did and still be profitable.”

It could be a few more years before roads are super charging cars, but researchers plan to install a quarter-mile-long test bed next year for more practical testing.