Wireless EV charging while driving: Cornell University research holds promise

The Cornell University team's system is smaller, lighter and simpler to embed in the road making it more practical than the magnetic field concept as it does not need materials like ferrite

By:May 17, 2021 7:05 PM

A research team led by associate professor of electrical and computer engineering Khurram Afridi at the Cornell University has worked out a new wireless charging system for electric vehicles (EV) so they can be charged while on the go on a highway. The work draws inspiration from Afridi’s time spent at NASA, as per Cornell Chronicle. While there have been ideas around EV charging roads before but most have been shelved.

Afridi’s approach, on the other hand, takes cues from NASA’s system of sending data through deep space. This could revolutionise EV charging infrastructure by allowing EVs and autonomous vehicles to charge while driving.

The technology would save time for drivers and improve productivity in warehouses, paving the way forward for sustainable transit.

“There are a lot of infrastructure questions that get asked when you say, ‘OK, we’re going to enable electric vehicles.’” Afridi said. “How does that society function? If every vehicle in the country was electric, you would need a lot of outlets to plug them in. We don’t have that kind of power available in our homes to be able to charge them very fast.”

The roots of Afridi’s project find their way back to Nikola Tesla who amazed the world in the 1890s by illuminating unplugged fluorescent lamps using alternating electric fields. French scientists tried following in Tesla’s footsteps but trying to transfer energy using alternating magnetic fields instead of electric fields to power trams. The approach was termed impractical and the tech was shelved.

There have been many attempts to wireless power transfer but not to the extent of actual usage. Afridi looked beyond issues like magnetic fields – to space.

“Wireless power transfer is based on the same underlying physics used to send messages through radio waves to spacecraft in deep space, things like Voyager,” Afridi said. “Except now we are sending much more energy across much shorter distances, to moving vehicles.”

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Afridi’s system involves drivers changing lanes to a designated charging lane while driving. The team is developing a system that uses pairs of insulated metal plates placed on the ground, which are connected to a power line.

These plates create oscillating electric fields that attract and repel charges in metal plates attached to the underside of the moving vehicles. A high-frequency current is then driven, and rectified, through a circuit on the vehicle, where it charges the vehicle’s battery.

The team’s system is smaller, lighter and simpler to embed in the road making it more practical than the magnetic field concept as it does not need materials like ferrite and it can operate at higher frequencies.

The project is currently in the concept stage but if it delivers what it promises, it could solve any problems relating to range anxiety for drivers and also make way for real-world usage of autonomous vehicles as well.

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