Stanford Researchers Aim to One Day Enable EV-Charging While Driving

Limited range has long been considered by many to be the biggest impediment to widespread electric vehicle adoption. While the vast majority of drivers travel only a fraction of the common range found in modern electric vehicles on a daily basis, nearly all drivers have days when they need to make that 4-hour drive to grandma’s house and 70-100 miles simply isn’t enough. Installing electric vehicle chargers at different exits helps, but even expensive (and so far virtually non-existent) fast-charging stations can take 30 minutes to charge a vehicle like the Nissan LEAF to 80 percent―which is still relatively inconvenient compared to a gasoline fueling station.

But what if you didn’t have to even pull off of the road to charge your EV? Researchers at the Stanford University Global Climate and Energy Project are currently trying to make that a possibility, by creating a wireless charging system capable of charging vehicles as they drive along the highway. The technology employs metal coils placed several feet apart, which create magnetic fields operating on the principle of induction to effectively transfer electrical energy from a current running along the road to the car as it passes.

Inductive charging of electric vehicles is far from a new technology. Small inductive charging paddles attached to charging stations were used to charge GM’s EV-1 and Toyota’s original RAV4 EV when those cars were released more than a decade ago. Stationary wireless charging―which allows plug-ins to charge while parked, without the aid of an actual plug―is also a growing technology, with Nissan reportedly planning to include wireless charging as an add-on for a future Infiniti luxury EV to be released in 2014. But giving electric vehicle drivers the ability to one day stay on the road longer without having to worry about their cars running out of juice would truly be a coup for the plug-in vehicle movement.

Of course, the infrastructure required to do such a thing would likely be expensive and isn’t even close to being on the horizon. Another concern for researchers is the possibility of the system injuring passengers or delivering harmful radiation. “We need to determine very early on that no harm is done to people, animals, the electronics of the car or to credit cards in your wallet,” said Stanford’s Sven Beiker to a university publication. Luckily, the team says that there’s been no evidence to suggest a danger so far.

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  • Capt. Concernicus

    This all sounds very good, but what about the health risks it may pose to the occupants inside? What about the costs associated with installing these coils on all the roads in the nation?

  • Boom Boom

    I keep on seeing this wireless charging technology, but no one is answering the question of how much energy is wasted in the proccess (i.e. how much electricity do they have to run through the streets to charge the cars compared to how much would they have to use if they just ran a plug). I am no electrical engineer, but it seems like the efficiency of such a system would be pretty low, which would totally defeat the conservation point of electric cars.
    Have any of these studies examined the efficiency of the systems?

  • TD

    The same arguments could be made against the electrical grid when it was first created in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

  • jak

    This is in the category of “we will be living on the moon in the Year 2000”. The state of California (and other states) barely has enough money to fund maintenance of existing roads and bridges. Where are they going to get the money for installing this kind of infrastructure?

  • AP

    I agree with jak. There are a lot of “nice to haves,” but you have to pick where to spend your money. Since California currently has none, it will be a challenge – what will they cut to fund this?

    It’s also ironic to me that the research is done by “the Stanford University Global Climate and Energy Project.” For the foreseeable future, our power grid will be fueled largely by coal, which creates a lot of CO2. Since electric vehicles consume about the same total fuel energy per mile as gasoline powered ICE vehicles, they emit as much CO2. They do nothing to minimize global warming.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    A system like that would take a lot of oil to mine all the minerals, the manufacturing, maintenance etc…. I don’t see it happening.. If we built it 30 years ago on the upside of oil production, maybe. Now, no.


  • TD

    Haven’t tuned in to this site for a while. I can see it’s been taken over by the naysayers.

    19th century technology today, tomorrow and forever!

  • Turdenomics

    Is there this a huge infrastructure cost that is so unfathomable that it would kill this idea? If (according to the article)… Small inductive charging paddles attached to charging stations were used to charge GM’s EV-1 and Toyota’s original RAV4 EV…what infrastructure was needed ten years ago when these cars were on the road?

    The cost of infrastructure is always a barrier unless there is money to be made by someone in power. I heard the same naysayers downplay the viablility of cell phones when the issue of building out the cell tower infrastructure was raised…So, ATT, Sprint, and others built them…and to some extent, we are still paying for those infrastructure build least it seems so every time I get my cell phone bill…but we adjust…

    Likewise, Chevron and Co. will figure out a way to fund and build out wireless charging points to stay and reinvent itself in the fueling game, once the politics of oil, along with China’s and India’s growing economies consuming most of the production, gets to be more of a hassle than a business model.

  • Jam

    Can you say Tesla?

  • DAM

    This sounds like a federal government type solution to a problem that is not necessary and has already been solved by private individuals with far sighted vision!

    Simply search for “Mother Earth News” and then search for “electric vehicle with onboard power generator”.

    Several years ago (prior to the advent of lithium batteries) an individual in Arkansas took the combustion engine out of his Opel GT, replaced it with a surplus aircraft starter/generator set to run as a motor, and then hooked up a second starter/generator, set to run as a generator to charge 6 deep cycle batteries. The generator was originally powered by a 5hp Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine – initially with a pull start! (until he figured out how to add an electric starter). A small 1-cylinder gas engine emits a lot less than the original 4-cyclinder gas engine.

    The generator was started, which began charging the battery pack, then the electric “motor” would start and the driver would select the transmission for forward or reverse. Since the electric vehicle’s batteries were charged all the time during travel, the only limitation was how much gas was used by the gas engine running the generator. At a sustained 55mph the gas engine used 1/2 gallon per hour. A 1 gallon tank takes it 110 miles on regular gas!


    P.S. Later he replaced the 5hp Briggs & Stratton engine with a 7hp Chrysler Marine single cylinder diesel engine. This allowed it to turn the generator faster and generate more power to the battery pack. The diesel engine used 1/4 gallon per hour. That equates to 220 miles per 1 gallon of diesel!
    (Honda may be able to build generators able to do better than that.)

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