The roads will soon charge your electric car – while you’re driving

The 2010 North American Auto Show. Image: Getty.

It was Tesla Motors, more than any other company, that triggered the current interest in electric cars. The firm’s namesake, Nikola Tesla, a genius inventor and Thomas Edison’s arch rival, would no doubt be pleased. Yet Tesla would be even more thrilled to realise the next step for electric vehicles involves turning his biggest vision into reality: the wireless transmission of power.

Due to their low local emissions, battery-powered electric cars are more in demand than ever, but they still have a reputation for being too expensive and having too short a driving range. So how about recharging them without having to plug in a cable, while parking or even driving on the road?

This isn’t science fiction: we know from our electric tooth brushes that batteries can be recharged without plugging in a wire, and even smart phones can be charged just by being placed on top of a pad.

Nikola Tesla planned – but never completed – a wireless power transmitter in New York. Frank R Paul & Joseph Riley, Transmitting Power by Radio (1925). Image: public domain.

Here’s how it works: an alternating current (AC) flows through a wire coil (the transmitter), which causes a magnetic field to switch between two directions at a high frequency. A second coil (the receiver) exposed to that magnetic fields picks up those oscillations, inducing an AC current in its own circuit, which is then used to power the car (or charges the battery in your toothbrush).

Electronic systems able to handle higher frequencies, which allow more power to be transmitted, are becoming more affordable. Energy can now be transferred between coils that are increasingly further apart or aren’t aligned accurately.

Thanks to this technology, some electric cars can already be charged by parking them on top of charging pads, which can be as much as 20cm away from the receiving coil at the bottom of the vehicle. The next step is to wire-up the roads themselves with coils so that cars, buses, and even trucks could be charged while they move.

For peace of mind, wireless charging systems are properly shielded so that no animals or humans will be harmed. A coil in the road will only emit power when it is in wireless communication with a receiver coil above it, and the latter will absorb nearly all of it. The bit that is lost is mostly absorbed by the metal body of the car itself.


The path to wired-up roads

Retrofitting roads with wireless charging coils sounds expensive. But recent studies show that the biggest part of the cost comes from the construction work itself – on a new or renovated road, the extra costs are not that high.

Charging on the move isn’t just a convenient time-saver – it will also bring down the cost of electric vehicles themselves. Batteries that get recharged more frequently during usage will last longer and can be made smaller while retaining the same driving range.

As with all new technologies that rely on not-yet existing infrastructure, wireless vehicle charging will start in a niche market (remember the early and expensive days of mobile phones?). In this case, the niche is electric buses that re-charge at bus stops and on certain segments of their fixed driving route.

The global pioneer is the Online Electric Vehicle (OLEV), a bus developed a few years ago by South Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). Continuous charging means OLEV buses cover their routes using small batteries just a third the size of those found in a regular electric car. More recently, Swedish truck and bus-maker Scania trialled a similar system of recharging stations for buses to demonstrate such technology could still work in harsh Nordic winters.

For passenger cars, wireless charging will first come as a convenience feature. People will be able to park in their driveway or garage without having to plug in a cable, and will still have a recharged battery next time they need the car.

We will have to wait longer for a dense network of highways that can charge vehicles on the move. This would be a major infrastructure investment and would involve a substantial quest for more copper wires and semiconductor components.

Experience with the technology and agreement on international compatibility standards will be prerequisites of such investments. Safety must not be ignored: the transmitter coils emit substantial power, which is only considered safe if it is in proper communication with a receiver coil. Communication between transmitter and receiver must also be secured against accidental or even intentional interference – an aspect that even touches on cyber security.

So when and where will we see electrified roads being rolled out on larger scale? Korea will try and maintain its leadership in this technology. Places like Singapore, wealthy and with strong ambitions in clean and efficient transport, may follow soon. Standardised electrified roads could become what the railways were to the 19th century: not only a leap in transport efficiency, but the core of a new industry.The Conversation

Harry Hoster is director of Energy Lancaster and professor of physical chemistry at Lancaster University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.