By Tom Jowitt
The batteries in electric cars could soon be charged while being driven along the motorway network after Highways England announced a trial of the technology.
And the government agency confirmed to TechweekEurope that the trials would begin later this year and that the technology would be tested off-road first, and not on public roads.
The idea behind the trial is that the batteries within electric cars would be charged as they drive along a motorway or major A-roads. This could extend the fairly limited range of electric cars currently when compared to their more conventionally powered brethren.
Highways England has already completed a feasibility study and is currently in a procurement stage, asking companies to tender bids for a trial of “dynamic wireless power transfer.”
So how does it work? Well, it would be in a similar manner to when people wirelessly charge their smartphone. According to the BBC, the underground charging kit uses a process known as Shaped Magnetic Field In Resonance.
Electric cables are buried underneath the road and generate electromagnetic fields. A coil within the electric car or bus would then covert that electromagnetic field into electricity.
The technology has already been tested in South Korea and closer to home in Milton Keynes.
The South Korea city of Gumi enabled a 7.5 mile (12km) stretch of road that charges electric buses as they drive along the road. In Milton Keynes, however, the buses have to be wirelessly recharged via plates installed on the road. And the bus has to stop for several minutes in order to receive the charge.
“The potential to recharge low emission vehicles on the move offers exciting possibilities,” said Transport Minister Andrew Jones. “The government is already committing £500 million over the next five years to keep Britain at the forefront of this technology, which will help boost jobs and growth in the sector.”
“As this study shows, we continue to explore options on how to improve journeys and make low-emission vehicles accessible to families and businesses,” he added.
Highways England confirmed to TechweekEurope that it would work with the industry in developing the technology, if the decision is made to install it on the U.K. road network.
“Vehicle technologies are advancing at an ever increasing pace and we’re committed to supporting the growth of ultra-low emissions vehicles on our England’s motorways and major A roads,” said Highways England Chief Highways Engineer Mike Wilson.
“The off road trials of wireless power technology will help to create a more sustainable road network for England and open up new opportunities for businesses that transport goods across the country,” Wilson added.
It is worth noting that the trial does mean that the technology will be rolled out on British roads. And some experts doubt the technology will ever be deployed in the United Kingdom due to its cost.
“It makes sense to try it out, and the technology does obviously work,” Dr. Paul Nieuwenhuis, the director of Cardiff Business School’s Electric Vehicle Center of Excellence told the BBC.
“But it sounds very ambitious to me. Cost will be the biggest issue and I’m not totally convinced it’s worth it.
“Battery technology is increasing–if you look at what Tesla has achieved in recent years, it keeps adding more [travel] range to battery technology roughly every six months. So, it’s not clear there’s even a need for this.”
Highways England confirmed to TechweekEurope that it already has a long-term commitment to install electric charging points every 20 miles (32.1km) on its motorway network.