Last week, Highways England announced that it will begin testing an experimental road that charges electric vehicles as they drive. If successful, the new road could transform transportation in the UK and spur a major electric revolution.
Barring the most advanced – and most expensive – Tesla Roadster, today’s electric vehicles (EVs) average about 250 miles per charge. While this is more than enough for a typical city commute, it is a sticking point for drivers that tend to rack up the miles. And with charging stations still a rarity between major metropolises, EV adoption remains sluggish. But a road that charges a car as it drives could pave the way for unlimited electric commuting.
“The potential to recharge low emission vehicles on the move offers exciting possibilities,” said UK Transport Minister Andrew Jones in a Highways England press release. “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.”
The technology behind the innovative road is fairly simple: Electric cables buried beneath the pavement will generate an electromagnetic field, which will be picked up by a coil installed in the bottom of an electric car. The coil will convert the field into electricity, and voilà!
Highways England will soon begin an 18-month trial to see if the technology can be implemented satisfactorily. A similar road has already been built in South Korea, in which electric buses are charged in a process known as Shaped Magnetic Field in Resonance. England has also successfully installed wireless charging plates in Milton Keynes, though the plates could only charge vehicles when they were stopped.
A spokesman for Highways England told the BBC that off-road trials (i.e., trials held away from public roads) will begin by 2016 or 2017.
“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,” said Mike Wilson, chief highways engineer for Highways England.
In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Paul Nieuwenhuis, co-director of the Center for Automotive Industry Research and the Electric Vehicle Center of Excellence, voiced his skepticism of the project. Though he admitted that “the technology does obviously work,” he added that the road “sounds very ambitious” and might be cost-prohibitive.
“I’m not totally convinced it’s worth it,” he said. “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, a government-owned agency that manages England’s core road network, is testing the charging road project as part of the government’s larger Road Investment Strategy. In the future, the agency also plans to install plug-in charging stations every 20 miles along the motorways.