A Brave New World

Dynamic battery charging is well within reach

Dynamic battery charging is coming

Motoring is at the cutting edge of a brave new world. Over the next few years there are going to be some exciting developments in road technology and the methods of charging for the new generation of electric cars. If you think it is all going to be a bit Big Brother, you are probably right, but it will also help solve some of the angst about the changing motoring scene.

Electric cars, with their zero to low emissions at the point of use (if not when you include the electricity generated by old-fashioned fossil-fuelled power stations) are appearing in increasing numbers on the roads. But progress is slow. Sales of e-cars are painfully modest, still a tiny fraction of the rest of the traffic.

Beating the angst

‘Range anxiety’ remains a big hurdle, the worry about how far the car will go before it runs out of juice. So too is the still-modest, although growing, charging infrastructure. Politicians are keen to encourage greater use of electric vehicles, because EVs help to meet EU-imposed CO2 targets, which are backed by heavy fines for failure to comply.

A new age of cars is upon us!

More charging places would be a big help, although re-charging an EV is still a much slower process than popping into a filling station to top up with petrol or diesel. This is where a new kind of high-tech road will be a very interesting development. Tests commissioned by Highways England, the government organisation responsible for road infrastructure maintenance, are soon to begin on new-age charging.

It will involve small sub-stations, AC converters and power transfer loops to provide charging directly from the road surface, and test cars fitted with wireless charging technology. Initially the trial will take place on a test track, then later on an actual road carrying real traffic. The road chosen for this second stage of the trial is the A2 to the south-east of London heading into Kent.

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South Korean world first

It will mimic a similar idea already being used in South Korea, where it is a world first. That involves modified electric buses which receive charging on the move from SMFIR – Shaped Magnetic Field in Residence – built into the road surface.

Highways England’s chief highways engineer Mike Wilson says of the UK trial: “Vehicle technologies are advancing at an ever increasing pace and we’re committed to supporting the growth of ultra-low emissions vehicles on England’s motorways and major A roads.”

Leon Daniels, London’s surface transport boss, puts it more succinctly: “We’re going to wire up the A2 so it’s capable of being a technical laboratory.” One that will potentially test the means of liberating EV drivers from range angst.

If you are one of the tiny minority of motorists who already drive an electric car, don’t get too excited just yet. It is going to be quite a while before road re-charging becomes a reality for EV drivers. Off-road trials will last for about 18 months, during which time the necessary infrastructure will haveto be installed along the A2 before the on-road trial can begin. Yes, some inconvenient road works are in prospect when that happens.

Meanwhile progress continues on the spread of electric car charging points around the country. Highways England is committed to installing EV plug-in facilities every 48 km – approximately every 28 miles – throughout the motorway network around the country.

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Sue Baker is a seasoned motoring journalist with a love of all things automotive.