Are electric freeways the future?4 December 2015
Originally published on mynrma.com.au by Rob Schneider on 13 November 2015 – https://www.mynrma.com.au/living-well-navigator/getting-around/are-electric-freeways-the-future.htm
Widely recognised as the first freeway in the US, the Arroyo Seco Parkway opened in December 1940 connecting downtown Los Angeles to the city of Pasadena. A quarter of a century later, freeways were linking towns and cities throughout the world. Today, electric cars are becoming increasingly accepted and rumours of electric freeways are circulating. What is an electric freeway and will they become commonplace in the future?
What is an electric freeway?
Electric cars run on powerful electric batteries rather than fossil fuels. Their greatest disadvantage is that the batteries have to be periodically recharged, which can take several hours. Engineers are coming up with longer lasting batteries, but a better solution is to enable electric vehicles to recharge on the go.
That’s where a relatively new technology known as dynamic Wireless Power Transfer (WPT) comes in. Various firms and engineering labs are working on developing systems that allow drivers to recharge electric vehicles while they drive. A team at Stanford University, for instance, is developing a way to wirelessly charge electric cars from magnetic coils embedded into the road using a technique called ‘magnetic resonance coupling’. Meanwhile, off-road trials in the UK are due to begin testing how dynamic WPT technology would work safely and effectively on the country’s motorways and major roads.
Another solution that will soon be a reality is the on-road charging station. Later this year the RAC Electric Highway – a network of publicly accessible charging stations in Western Australia – is due to become operational. The first of its kind in the country, the highway will offer both DC fast charging and AC charging stations at selected spots on existing WA roads between Perth and Augusta. Vehicles with batteries that can be charged using the DC “Trio” system can be charged to 80 percent capacity within 20 minutes. Those batteries that require an AC charger will take between four and eight hours to recharge.
Are electric freeways the future of driving?
In 2010 total sales of electric vehicles numbered in the hundreds, says the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). By the end of 2015, it estimates this number will reach one million, including electric cars and hybrids (petrol and electric). And as consumer demand for more energy efficient cars increases so too will demand for more efficient ways to recharge their vehicles.
In terms of on-the-go electric highways, commentators say it may take years, if not decades, before roads are retrofitted this way. However, various firms are already working to make it easier to recharge electric cars by building charging stations for car parks, garages and other locations. Auto manufacturers, too, are keen to offer their customers an easy to use and fully automatic recharging method and are also working to create a “public standard” so that charging stations are not only easily accessible but able to accommodate all types of electric vehicles. According to reports, the first units – for use in garages – will go into production in a few years’ time.
Just as one short stretch of freeway was all it took to launch a freeway building boom, the electric highway trials in England, Australia’s RAC Electric Highway and other projects around the world may be all it takes to kickstart a new era, one in which we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and run our vehicles on cleaner electric power.