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Owners of electric vehicles could soon be able to charge their cars while driving 2019-09-20

Electric cars will be charged wirelessly while on the move in an initiative designed to revolutionise transport in the UK.

Coventry intends to create the UK’s first public ‘E-lane’ next year by installing wireless chargers on to a stretch of road in the north east of the city.

It will, if successful, pave the way for electric vehicle use to become widespread across the UK and beyond within 10 years, experts say.

“Charging batteries on the move is key to the success of electric vehicles in the UK, not least because it will take away the anxiety many people feel about finding a charging station before it’s too late,” said project leader Shamala Evans, of Coventry city council.

Charging on-the-go

If the scheme is successful Coventry’s authorities will ‘electrify’ more of its roads, closely by other towns and cities.

Charging on-the-go is one of the holy grails of electric transport, especially for longer journeys, as it removes the need for drivers to stop every 100 to 250 miles, find a charging station and wait - potentially for several hours - while their battery tops up.

Once charging lanes became widespread, battery sizes could be significantly reduced because they wouldn’t need to hold as much electricity.

“Batteries are large, heavy and expensive - so a smaller battery makes the car lighter. That means it uses less energy, and creates space so it can carry more passengers or cargo,” said Noam Ilan, who is working with Coventry council on the city’s proposed electric lane.

Shrinking batteries also makes them cheaper to produce, while their reduced weight means less wear and tear on the tyres - reducing rubber pollution - added Mr Ilan, who is head of business development at Electreon, an Israeli road technology company.

E-lanes and driverless vehicles

E-lanes will also smooth the way for driverless vehicles to becoming widespread, especially those designed to transport elderly, disabled or very young passengers who cannot drive and would find it difficult to locate and use a charging station.

An influx of vehicles on the road if autonomous vehicles do take off would put even more pressure on roadside charging stations, further increasing the need for on-the-road-charging facilities, according to Professor Mohammad Reza Mousavi, of the University of Leicester.

“Autonomous vehicles could, for example, allow you to send your kid to school without you being involved, so you can drive somewhere else. But you would need ‘inductive charging’ for them to become widely used,” he said.

Autonomous vehicles

It is expected that many of the autonomous lorries of the future will be devoid of people altogether, making manual recharging even more difficult. But with electric lanes, these lorries could theoretically work around the clock.

The world’s first public road in the world that can wirelessly recharge electric-car batteries while they are on the move is due to open in the US state of Illinois early next year.

Similar e-roads catering for buses and trucks are due to begin operations on the Swedish island of Gotland and in Tel Aviv, Israel around the same time.

Ms Evans is still finalising the details and funding of Coventry’s plans but expects the pilot to begin by catering for some combination of buses, cars and taxis before opening it up to all vehicle types in the longer term. She hopes funding could be finalised as early as this month.

New era for transport

This new generation of E-roads heralds a new era in transport as countries around the world pledge to phase out fossil-fuel vehicles - with sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans banned from 2040 in the case of the UK.

At the moment, there are about 220,000 electric cars and vans in the UK, which typically have to stop and recharge every 100 to 250 miles, depending on the model. The time, inconvenience and concern associated with finding a charging station has put a brake on electric vehicle ownership. This new road-charging technology could be about to change that, however.

“This technology has the potential to be a real gamechanger. It’s very exciting - both for us as researchers and also for societal impact,” said David Christensen, of Utah State University, who is overseeing the pilot in Illinois, which also involves the Fiat Chrysler group.

“The technology could really help push widespread adoption of electric vehicles and it’s subsequent benefits for energy, the environment and the economy,” Dr Christensen added.

His pilot would see a half mile stretch of the Interstate-294 public in Illinois fitted with dynamic electric vehicle charging (DEVC) technology.

How it works

As with the other pilots in the offing, the project would see charging pads built into the road that are capable of transferring electricity from lane to the car battery. These pads work by a process called electromagnetic induction where electricity is passed through a coil of wires in pads on the road to create a magnetic field.

When this field comes into contact with a "charging receiver" on the underside of the car, a separate current is induced and stored in the battery.

As the technology becomes incorporated more fully into roads, drivers would probably pay for the electricity used on the road through some kind of "smart billing" system that pays the operator, experts said.

Apart from working with Coventry, Electreon is also behind the trials in Tel Aviv and Gotland.

Standing at a cross-roads

“We’re standing at a cross roads and this technology can revolutionise the way electrification of transport develops. Charging vehicles as they move unlocks next stage of development, opening doors and enabling faster, more widespread adoption,” said Mr Ilan.

“Within the next 10 years I expect electric vehicles to be really widespread - not only among trucks and buses but cars as well,” he said.

Looking into the future, it seems unlikely that every road in the UK will become electrified. Instead, experts envisage a widespread system of E-lanes covering many, but not all, stretches of motorway and roads. These would be complemented with roadside charging stations and used to keep the battery topped up with people continuing to do much of their charging at home.

How the technology is likely to develop

Initially, electric lanes are likely to be used mostly by buses which take regular journeys, with the technology installed in specific roads on their route to ensure that their batteries stay full so they don’t need to rely on alternative sources. Cars using those roads would be able to give their batteries a bit of an injection but would probably require alternative sources of charging later on their journey when it took them back onto non-electric roads.

Over time, the electric lane network could spread and cars could increasingly rely on them to recharge their batteries.

That’s the conclusion of an eagerly-awaited EU feasibility study into road-charging technology conducted on non-public test tracks in Italy and France, which has just been published.

The UK Highways agency put plans for similar feasibility tests on hold in 2015 after hearing about the EU trial - saying it would instead study the results of that one instead of conducting its own.

The first driverless vehicle

History was made in May this year when a driverless lorry was allowed onto a public road, alongside normal traffic, for the first time anywhere in the world - in rural Sweden.

The route was short, quiet and remote, on the little-visited outskirts of the town of Jönköping on the shores of Lake Vättern in southern Sweden.

While the vehicle didn’t physically have a driver in the cabin, there was a human being monitoring the situation from a distance, ready to step in with the remote control if it ran into trouble.

But caviats aside, the development marked a milestone in the rapidly-developing area of autonomous vehicles.

The truck, which weighs 26 tonnes when laden with cargo, is being used to transport freight from one warehouse of German logistics company DB Schenker to another 300 metres away. About 100 metres of that stretch is public road.

Known as the T-Pod, it has been making its rounds on a regular basis for nearly two months now.

About 60 per cent of the truck’s movements are autonomous with the remaining 40 per cent dictated by the remote controls of people working 120 kilometres away.

In the longer term, the hope is that the distances will become longer, the human input smaller - and that the technology will increasingly find it’s way into cars and buses as well.

In business terms, it makes sense to have large, mostly-autonomous fleets of trucks, driving 24/7, supervised remotely by a human who could oversee ten vehicles at once, according to, Niklas Reinedahl, head of operations at Einkiln, the Swedish maker of the T-Pod truck.

'Significant development'

“This is a significant development. Whether it’s freight or personal transportation, autonomous vehicles have the potential to get you where you want to go in a timely manner and to do so safely.”

“It’s safer because humans are more likely to make mistakes than machines. For example, there are plenty of blind spots on a medium or heavy duty truck but autonomous technology now covers 360 degrees of perception and reacts instantly. So today actually the technology is safer than human behaviour - legislation needs to catch up,” he says check.


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