Feb 102012

It remains one of the biggest challenges facing the electric car industry and, although significant progress continues to be made, a satisfactory, workable solution remains some way off. How best to increase the short range of electric vehicles and decrease the recharging time so that electric motoring becomes as effortless as driving petrol or diesel cars?

Perhaps research students at Stanford University in the US have the answer that could solve the problem all in one go. Their system involves placing magnetic conductors in the road that would wirelessly transmit electric currents to a vehicle’s coil system, in which two copper coils resonate at exactly the same frequency. One of these coils would be wired up to an electrical power source, the one in the road, while the other is connected to the electrics inside the vehicle. Transmission would then only take place if the two coils were in tune with one another, thereby allowing magnetic resonance.

Motorway Map - United Kingdom

Motorway Map - United Kingdom

During tests, the researchers came up with some exciting results after adjusting the angles and the distances between the coils. Bent at 90 degrees, the coil attached to an electricity supply was able to transmit some 10 kilowatts of electrical energy at a distance of just under 7 feet. This was deemed to be sufficient to transfer the necessary electrical energy to recharge a vehicle travelling at a constant speed on a motorway at an efficiency level of 97 per cent, meaning just three per cent of energy would be lost.

The implications of this are staggering. First of all, rather than match the range and time wasted refueling with petrol and diesel vehicles, this electrical system would far surpass it. In theory, cars would never have to stop to recharge; all they would have to do is go onto roads that offer this recharging capability, presumably motorways, which would then give them unlimited range as opposed to the standard 100 miles or less typically seen in the current generation of electric vehicles.

This would therefore have a huge impact on the way we conceive and power electric vehicles. Public recharging stations would no longer be needed (although perhaps home stations in rural areas some distance from motorways would). And of course, the road network would need to be completely overhauled in a way that would give complete advantage to electric vehicles. Who would stick with an old petrol or diesel car when they can take advantage of the recharging system available as they drive?

For our society as a whole, the ramifications are mind boggling: No more petrol stations and therefore no more shops attached to them, far fewer service stations on motorways, the possibility of getting much further and faster in one sitting, and the danger posed by drivers who don’t get a break from the road so often.

Such a system would mean a total overhaul of the automotive industry and its subsidiary parts, the road system, and the way we use and pay for energy. It’s a bold move, but perhaps exactly what we need to solve the ongoing electric vehicle conundrum.

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