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Israel is testing wireless charging of electric vehicles

New technology may power buses and cars while driving, but will it be economically viable?

New roads that allow wireless charging eliminate the need for charging stations. But is the technology economically viable? Illustration: Courtesy of Oren Ezer, ElectRoad.
New roads that allow wireless charging eliminate the need for charging stations. But is the technology economically viable? Figure: Courtesy Oren Ezer, ElectRoad.

By Abigail Pagan, the article is published with the approval of Scientific American Israel and the Ort Israel Network 02.07.2017

Electric vehicles have long been considered one of the most promising solutions in the field of sustainable transportation. But the road to implementing the solution is still full of obstacles, one of which is the need for large and expensive batteries that must be recharged frequently. Israel is dealing with these obstacles by investing in roads that will charge the batteries of electric buses as they travel. The government cooperates with the Israeli start-up company ElectRoad In establishing a public transportation route for electric buses in Tel Aviv that will be based on wireless charging technology through the road. This technology eliminates the need for repeated charging through charging stations.

Although at this stage the technology is still in its infancy, it may remove the three main obstacles standing in the way of realizing the vision of the electric car: costs, battery weight and driving range, which have delayed for more than a hundred years Widespread use in vehicles powered by an electric battery. However, first the ElectRoad company will have to prove that the technologyCharging through electromagnetic induction It can indeed be applied on a large scale at a low enough cost to justify its adoption worldwide. "It is exciting. Because it is charging without cables," says Tim Cleary, who heads the research laboratory BATTERY to research energy storage at Pennsylvania State University and is not involved in the project. "But as long as the technology is not cheap enough and financially viable, it has no chance of being applied in the field."

ElectRoad is confident that the technology will be successfully implemented. Wireless charging will allow the installation of a cheap and lightweight battery in electric buses instead of the large and expensive battery and will exempt them from the need to stop for recharging. And once a travel route is equipped with the technology, it will be able to continuously charge vehicles that will be equipped accordingly. "All that is required is to install the infrastructure once, and that is the end of the job. The infrastructure will serve vehicles of all types, this is a big advantage," says Oren Ezer, CEO and co-founder of the company, which was established four years ago.

Until now, the company has demonstrated the technology only on a 25-meter-long track spread out in the area of ​​the company's headquarters in Caesarea. But the performance of the technology was good enough to earn the company a $120,000 grant from the Ministry of Transportation and Road Safety and the company's certification to install the technology on part of a bus lane in Tel Aviv, says Shay Sofer, the chief scientist at the Ministry of Transport. The length of the road where the technology will be installed is about 800 meters and it is expected to open to traffic in 2018. If everything goes well, the government intends to deploy the technology more widely, in the first phase, along the road between Eilat and Ramon International Airport, which is about 18 kilometers long. "Tel Aviv is the big city [in Israel], like New York on a small scale. If the technology works in Tel Aviv, it will work everywhere," says Sofer. "I believe that in 10 years we will see many solutions such as that of ElectRoad in our transportation system."

Ezer, CEO of ElectRoad, refused to say how much the project in Tel Aviv will cost, but according to him, the total cost of building the infrastructure will be shared between the Ministry of Transportation, the Tel Aviv Municipality and the company. The cost per kilometer of road will be a key factor in the coming years, as the company tries to develop and expand. Israel joins a growing number of countries testing the technology. BSouth Korea, for example, the wireless charging technology is already implemented in several bus routes throughout the country. also In the European Union, the feasibility is being tested of widespread deployment of wireless charging technology. ElectRoad's technology, says Ezer, is different: the transformers are not that expensive and the installation process of the technology is faster and more efficient compared to other wireless charging systems.

The idea of ​​loading using Electromagnetic inspiration Already known since the 90s of the 19th century, when the inventor Nikola Tesla Discovered that it is possible to charge light bulbs wirelessly. During the years that have passed since then, his invention has been implemented in a series of devices, starting with telephones and ending with toothbrushes - but only recently has it been used on a much larger scale, in a bus that weighs 13 tons. The buses are charged and driven by the electricity created due to the interaction between two electromagnetic fields. repulsive The ones installed on the side of the road, along its entire length, provide electricity to the copper platesImmersed in the road. Similar copper plates are installed on the bottom of the bus. When the vehicle drives on the charged road, an interaction is created between the two fields and they generate electric power.

The ElectRoad company says that it can install the technology on existing roads with minimal disruption to traffic, and this, by two bulldozers capable of completing the job along one kilometer of road in one night. But that is not enough, a small battery must be installed on every bus designed to fulfill two functions: first, to provide enough power for acceleration, since the initial energy required to propel a bus at rest is much greater than that required to continue moving along the road. and secondly, to provide electricity in short sections of the road that are not equipped with technology. Buses powered by ElectRoad technology can continue driving on the road without electric charging for approximately five kilometers.

Wireless charging allows the use of considerably smaller batteries or, alternatively, traveling longer distances with a larger battery and therein lies its great advantage. Both options are convenient to use, says Burak Ozpinci, engaged in the development of wireless technologies at the American National Laboratory Oak ridge in tennessee But according to him, the costs of the infrastructure and materials, especially the copper, will most likely be high. The price of copper currently stands at approx.$5.80 per kilogram. Besides the high costs, wireless charging is not that simple to implement, certainly not compared to connecting to a charging station socket: the bus may deviate from the charged route and thus receive less power, as Cleary from the University of Pennsylvania warns.

Besides, the advantages of ElectRoad's technology may lose importance as batteries for electric vehicles become cheaper, lighter and more efficient. In fact, over the past 15 years, batteries have become much more cost-effective thanks to breakthroughs in engineering and chemistry, says Dustin Grace, who heads the battery engineering department at the electric bus company. proterra. Just a few years ago, the cost of using a typical battery to power an electric vehicle was about $1,000 perkilowatt-hour. But today, the cost of using electric vehicles of many of the car manufacturers has dropped to 200 to 300 dollars per kilowatt-hour, and according to Grace, the vehicles of some of them, including TeslaGeneral Motors And Nissan, the cost is even lower than that. "I work in a field where I witness a real drop in the ownership of Lithium-ion batteries and of energy storage technologies," says Grace. “What these automakers are finding when they get into the $100 to $200 per kilowatt-hour cost range is that these vehicles are not falling behind other vehicles. They no longer see batteries as a problem that needs to be solved."

Ezer acknowledges that battery prices are falling, but he emphasizes that ElectRoad's technology is not intended for individual vehicles, but for a large-scale infrastructure that will eventually be able to serve entire cities. And that's where the savings lie, he says. And what about the small and light battery installed on the vehicles? Well, this battery is only used for about 6% of the travel time and will therefore be able to be used for many years, up to 25 years, claims Ezer. By comparison, normal batteries installed in electric buses, such as the batteries produced by Proterra, last aboutSix years.

Despite the challenges involved in the company's expansion, ElectRoad people are optimistic about the expected synergy between its vehicles and between the power grids that are gradually moving from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, such as solar energy and wind energy. According to Ezer, over time, the company even hopes to make the wireless charging technology bi-directional - so that it will be used not only to charge buses via the road, but also in the opposite direction, to generate energy, which is created when the vehicles brake.

And in the more distant future, the company hopes to realize even bigger dreams, says Ezer. "We intend to start with buses, of course, but we believe that we will revolutionize the entire transportation industry."

About the writers

Abigail Pagan - A graduate of the New York University School of Journalism and a science reporter.

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