Updated Feb 6, 2022 - Energy & Environment

A roadway will charge your EV while you're driving

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The nation's first stretch of road to wirelessly charge electric vehicles while they're in motion will begin testing next year in Detroit.

Why it matters: "Electrified" roadways, which have wireless charging infrastructure under the asphalt, could keep EVs operating around the clock, with unlimited range — a big deal for transit buses, delivery vans, long-haul trucks and even future robotaxis.

  • In-road charging could also help pave the way for more widespread EV adoption by relieving consumers of the need to stop and plug in their cars.

Driving the news: Electreon Wireless, an Israeli company whose plug-free charging infrastructure is already being tested in Europe, will deploy its first U.S. pilot in Detroit's Michigan Central district, a new mobility innovation hub near downtown.

  • The electrified road, up to a mile long, would allow EVs to charge whether they're stopped or moving, and should be ready for testing in 2023.
  • The state will contribute $1.9 million toward the project, which will also be supported by Ford Motor, DTE Energy and the city of Detroit.

The big picture: Wireless EV charging is expected to grow to $827 million worldwide by 2027, says Meticulous Research.

  • Most of that growth will be for "static" wireless charging systems in places like parking garages, taxi stands, and bus or truck depots.
  • Major U.S. players include WiTricity, WAVE, Momentum Wireless Power, Mojo Mobility, HEVO and Plugless Power, per the research firm.
  • Electreon claims leadership in the market for "dynamic" wireless charging — systems that allow vehicles to suck up juice while in motion.
  • It has ongoing pilots in Germany, Italy and Sweden, and will soon launch a plug-free charging network for 200 public buses in Tel Aviv. 

How it works: Wireless EV charging systems use magnetic frequency to transfer power from coils buried underground to a receiver pad attached to the car's underbelly.

  • An EV can pull into a designated parking place with an underground charging pad and add electricity the same way a smartphone charges wirelessly.
  • Along an electrified road, vehicles with wireless charging capability can suck up energy as they drive, but for all other cars, it's an ordinary road.

Between the lines: Wireless, or inductive, charging has multiple benefits over traditional EV plugs.

  • Vehicles that charge on the go can use smaller, cheaper batteries.
  • They also don't need to be taken out of service for charging. More uptime means more revenue for fleet owners and better customer service for transit agencies.
  • A taxi waiting at the train station, for example, can add 10 minutes of charging without having to plug in. Buses can also top off their battery at the depot while loading passengers.
  • And wireless charging is ideal for autonomous vehicles, which don't have a driver to plug a traditional charging cable into the car's socket.

Yes, but: Wireless charging can add $3,000 to $4,000 to an already pricey EV, notes Meticulous Research.

  • Electreon, which is working with carmakers to add receivers to their vehicles, aims to get the cost down to $1,000 or $1,500, Stefan Tongur, Electreon's vice president of business development, tells Axios.
  • Users would likely access the feature through a monthly subscription, he noted.

Where it stands: President Biden is calling for 500,000 new public charging stations by the end of 2030, and Congress allocated $7.5 billion for EV charging in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package passed last November.

  • "What a great time to come to the U.S. and show there’s an alternative — a smarter, faster charging system that takes us to where we need to be," says Tongur.

Editor's note: This story originally published on Feb. 2.

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