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.