Indiana wants magnetic highways that wirelessly charge electric vehicles
A new way to look at highway fuel economy.
This story originally featured on The Drive.
The Indiana Department of Transport (INDOT) recently announced plans to build a pretty wild new wireless charging system as part of a research project. The pilot program will see a quarter-mile stretch of road fitted with wireless charging technology embedded onto the pavement so vehicles can charge while driving along (or parked). It’s not the first time someone’s tried something like this, but it’s the first time a U.S. department of transport has gone ahead with a confirmed project.
There’ll be three phases to the project and the first two will happen before the tech hits the streets, literally. Not a lot of detail has been given yet, aside from who’s working on it, which is INDOT, Purdue University, and a German company called Magment, which produces—as the name suggests—magnetic cement.
The plan is to run two phases of testing and analysis, which will mostly be done by Purdue, as you’d expect for a research project. When there’s been enough data-crunching to work out how it’d be best to implement the project, on a test basis, then phase three sees stuff actually start to happen on a public road.
The quarter-mile test site hasn’t been picked yet, since that’s part of what the first two phases will be working out, but the idea is that by the time that’s all been covered, INDOT will work with Magment’s panels to test them specifically for heavy trucks, at 200-kilowatts-and-above charging.
Once all that’s been done and assuming it goes smoothly, then a larger section of highway somewhere in the state will get the first real rollout. We don’t know how far off that is yet since there isn’t a timeline for the first three phases.
Magment’s technology works via coils embedded in slabs made of magnetized cement. Vehicles that want to charge from the system will also need a similar coil fitted in their base, which will then connect to whatever their onboard charging system is. In theory, that allows charge to transfer between the ground coil and the onboard coil rapidly whether the vehicle is stationary over the Magment pad or not.
The idea in Indiana is to install the pads both as wireless charging options in car parking spaces and as part of the highway, so drivers can either pick up a quick burst by running through or more thoroughly top up their vehicle by parking, all without needing to mess around with different charger systems. Provided, of course, that they install the Magment under-car coil.
There are currently 207 charging locations in Indiana and only $5.5 million was pegged this week for expanding that, so this is a very major project compared to just building a bunch more charging stations. Although figures haven’t been released, this is a big infrastructural experiment compared to the sort of fairly haphazard charging builds that have been more manufacturer- and service-provided led.
This isn’t the first public, wireless, in-road charging that’s been planned. A project in Gumi, South Korea, launched in 2013 whereby two buses were able to charge via wireless sections of road. That’s more of a sort of wireless tram, though, to be fair, compared to what’s being proposed in Indiana. Israel announced a similar project in 2017 although it doesn’t seem to have come to fruition.
Norway is doing it, unsurprisingly for the country with the highest EV adoption in the world, and its neighbor Sweden is in on the act, too, having successfully run a trial of some wireless-charging roads using copper coil technology from Israeli company ElectrEon. Italy has also announced its own world-first wireless charging highway project, so it’s fair to say this is the current big thing as far as charging infrastructure sky-high thinking goes—but on a subterranean level.