Imagine being able to wirelessly recharge an electric car in less than one hour instead of plugging in and waiting 4-7 hours or longer.
Far off future fiction? No fact today, and something Momentum Dynamics has working in prototype form as it quietly works with companies intent on incorporating inductive charging technology into passenger cars and commercial vehicles.
This is according to the company’s CEO, Andy Daga, who we sat down with this week for a progress report on what may be the most powerful wireless inductive technology going.
Due to nondisclosure agreements, Daga is for now mum on household name clients being worked with, but he describes a push by nearly all automakers and those in commercial transportation toward charging that doesn’t need plugs and cables.
A finalist for the SAFE Energy Award which will announce winners July 31, Momentum Dynamics is a self-funded privately held corporation with “more business than we can handle” in prototype projects in several industries.
It’s hiring to take on more projects, and the six-year-old 20-plus-employee, suburban Philadelphia startup is a nominee for the SAFE (Secure America’s Future Energy) Award because energy security hawks are looking for ways to switch from petroleum.
An electric car can be made more practical today if zapped back in under an hour, as has been demonstrated with a Nissan Leaf, or in relatively short time, in the case of EVs with larger batteries.
Momentum Dynamics’ prototype home system has up to 10 kilowatts, 50 amps of 240-volt current. It’s hands free and safe and can work through snow and ice, if needed, or embedded under concrete, or portable, as desired. Public systems have proven up to 50 kilowatts, but 25 kilowatts is the “sweet spot” that Momentum is proving in field trials today and believes will become the standard.
The at-home charge rate for a sub-100-mile EV like a Leaf is not much slower than a 30-minute high-power DC quick charge.
How It Works
Momentum Dynamics uses wireless inductive technology with origins dating back to before Tesla – Nikola Tesla, that is.
What’s new about it is the company has found elegant ways to tweak technology employing a pair of round coils – one on the ground attached to the grid, and another attached to the vehicle to charge the battery.
These create “donut” shaped waves of invisible magnetic fields. Momentum’s engineering VP Bruce Long in essence devised a way to “squash the donut” and make the system far more effective.
Daga said the system “contains” the field so it does not interact with nearby objects, such as a vehicle’s metallic components. This leads to higher efficiency at high power levels.
After more than five-years development, patents, and pilot projects, the company has proven its technology doesn’t heat surrounding metal, and does the job as fast or faster than plug-in charging systems and for comparable cost and no efficiency loss.
“At 25 kilowatts continuous power throughput the overall power transfer efficiency is 91 percent,” says Daga. “We believe we can improve this to 93 percent in the near future. This is measured from the supply of the AC wall current to the battery.”
The technology conforms to international magnetic emission standards, and is harmless to humans and animals.
For commercial applications, Momentum Dynamics has invented technology enabling wireless and inductive power transmission allowing several EVS parked next to each to charge without conflict.
“It is a form of Near Field Communications,” says Daga. “It uses the existing magnetic system that is used to transfer electrical energy across an air gap to also, simultaneously, communicate information.”
What it does is solve a dilemma stumping others wanting to charge multiple vehicles without crosstalk, potential for cyberhacking, or safety risks, and this innovation itself is also something Momentum wishes to license.
This and other innovations not least being its raw speed of power transfer has Momentum Dynamics on the radar, if for now mostly behind the scenes.
Who Wants to Go First?
Today wireless charging systems are not available from any automaker but the first could arrive as soon as two years from now based on suggestions by Volkswagen, Audi, and Nissan.
At least one un-named major automaker is also evaluating Momentum’s tech, and may choose it as an OEM supplier. Here the carmaker could pre-configure EVs to be able to readily bolt up the wireless receiver making them plug-and-play, potentially as a dealer add on.
The mentioned aftermarket consumer charger being tested by Momentum Dynamics may be ready within a year and would work like any level 2 charger you now buy with a receiver added under the car.
It would not be the first to market, but with 5-10 kilowatts depending on what the house is set up for, it could be faster than anything now available.
Does Volkswagen’s robot arm essentially automating plugging in present a solution, or show a glaring need for a better solution?
Daga estimates 75 percent of Momentum’s business is commercial, 25 percent passenger vehicle, but the passenger car business is increasing.
Certainly the need for automatic charging is perceived. As one case illustrates, Volkswagen recently unveiled a complicated robotic arm that does little more than plug into an existing plug port.
That’s novel, perhaps a point of Teutonic engineering pride, but it could be complicated, pricey, and meanwhile automakers are working toward getting rid of the wires and plugs altogether.
There’s a bit of a dilemma in all of this. Being a conservative bunch, some automakers are not wanting to dive in too fast with technology. They are however looking to see which competitor does what first, while simultaneously nervous that the same competitor may beat them to the punch.
If you’ve not noticed, not all automakers tentatively proffering electrified cars today are as bullish and gung ho as, say, Renault-Nissan led by Carlos Ghosn, or Tesla, with Elon Musk at the helm.
Within this climate, Daga say every automaker is hedging bets on many technologies, but wireless charging is just a matter of time. To date, we’ve heard nothing even from Tesla on adapting it but others, even Toyota – yes, Toyota – are developing solutions.
While some have wondered where the electrified vehicle industry is heading, a study by Goldman Sachs bullishly forecasts one in four cars by 2025 will be either plug-in hybrid or battery electric. Out of 120 million total vehicles, that’s 30 million PHEVs and EVs annually on a global basis.
Due largely to a steady push by regulations, Goldman Sachs forecasts a paradigm shift over next decade and someone will have to offer them recharging solutions.
“The auto industry’s need to embrace technological change is more urgent now than ever before,” says Goldman Sachs in a study titled, “A disruptive new era of the Automotive Age.”
Another study by Morgan Stanley sees a bright forecast, and also bases projections on regulations that are more predictable to forecast the industry with than by guessing fuel prices, or consumer demand, or less than-eager manufacturer supply.
That said, 25 percent electrified market share one decade from now does sound intensely optimistic given the U.S. is presently mired at below 1 percent today.
Daga says even if the reality is only a fraction of this, it’s at least certain many more vehicles will need charging.
Making it Work
When they are not engineering prototypes, Daga and company have also spent time figuring ways to sell their technology into publicly accessible locations.
Charging systems costing $10,000 or more can make some prospective business owners wince. Attracting electrified car drivers to their business to shop can be appealing, but it’s not without complications.
Problems may include car owners who park at charger-equipped spots and hog them all day. Blink network is planning to impose a surcharge to penalize such behaviors, but some businesses on the fence about installing chargers see potential headaches.
While catering to anyone, Momentum Dynamics aims to sell to businesses which do not have cars parked all day – places like convenience stores, restaurants, and shopping malls, among others. A two hour or less in-and-out time will let its high-power chargers zap some range in and the problem of people leaving a car in space after it’s fully charged will take care of itself.
Beyond this, Daga foresees a shift from primarily home-based charging to greater dependence on public charging. In places like China, Korea, and even the U.S. and Europe, not everyone has a garage. In some cases almost no one does.
Thus the need for many more public chargers to accommodate many more electric cars will make wireless all the more appealing, he postulates.
In short, seamless convenient charging dotting a community would help stave off range anxiety from limited-distance EVs.
A 100-200 mile EV that can quickly net an extra 15-50 miles just by parking during ordinary daily coming and going would effectively extend range, asserts Daga.
Beyond bigger batteries, a much broader charging network would make EVs more viable, he says.
“We should not force people to dramatically change their lives to experience the benefit of cleaner transportation. We should instead reward them for making the transition,” says Daga who himself dislikes surcharges and financial penalties on people already spending extra to go electric. “Wireless charging allows people to drive an EV without a need to change their behavior. They drive and park and when parked they charge without even realizing they are charging. It becomes even easier than pumping gasoline.”
Where it’s Heading
Momentum Dynamics’ technology has potential applications beyond the car business, such as in medical devices, and in other fields, but its sole focus is electrified vehicles, something Daga says he personally believes in deeply.
While the ratio of fuel pumps are enough to supply millions of vehicles on the road, because EVs take longer, Daga suggests several times more chargers would be needed for as many EVs, and this too has Momentum Dynamics energized.
While it’s impossible to perfectly predict the future, wireless charging is expected soon, and could grow in lockstep with global EV markets.
If things go to plan, it will be a natural transition of greater convenience than plugs and cords, and Momentum Dynamics aims to be there.