Could Roads Recharge Electric Cars? The Technology May Be Close.

Other challenges may slow the electric road of the future. “To put this in context, 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,” said Jeremy J. Michalek, professor of engineering and public policy and director of the vehicle electrification group at Carnegie Mellon University.

“For passenger cars, most drivers will leave home on most days with a full tank of electricity, and EV range is growing large enough that most drivers won’t need public charging except on rare long-distance travel days,” he said.

But there is a bigger problem that these kinds of roadways can solve. “For long-haul trucking, inroad charging aims to address a real problem with electrifying trucks,” Mr. Michalek said. Electric trailer trucks require large battery packs that reduce payload; inroad charging could help, though that amount of long-distance travel would require a huge investment in infrastructure.

Inroad charging will also need to “withstand all of the weight and weather abuse that tears up our roads today. There may be particular applications where inroad charging infrastructure could be targeted to select locations, such as bus stops or fleets with fixed routes and known stops,” he said.

The Purdue team is mindful of these challenges, but optimistic. “The technical obstacles that we need to overcome are not insurmountable,” Mr. Aliprantis said. “Those can be overcome with proper design.”

There are, however, regulatory barriers, he said. “For example, in Indiana if you’re not a utility, you cannot resell electricity. So, if you’re the roadway operator, you cannot charge the vehicles for the electricity they consume. Also, there are obstacles to using the interstate right of way right now to install this infrastructure. There are certain regulations that need to change before this becomes a reality, at least in this country.”

Moreover, electric grids will need to increase capacity to guarantee they can cover the demand that will be created. “Especially if we want to implement this technology at scale, because we’re not charging cellphones, we’re charging big vehicles moving at freeway speeds, which require a significant amount of power,” he said.

For the Purdue project, it’s the start of the road trip.

“We see this technology as a great opportunity to align with the vision from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration of alternative fuel corridors along major national roadways that support plug-in electric vehicle charging, hydrogen, propane, and natural gas refueling with existing or planned infrastructure,” Ms. Gkritza said. “We are not proposing that all roads will be 100 percent electrified.”

Marcy Willis

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