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The future of driving: It’s Electrifying  

Electrified highways are highways that charge your electric vehicle while it is driving on the road. They include power distribution along the roadway, sensing and communications technologies for detection and coordination with your vehicle

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Braden Limb has always had the desire to work in an area that could impact the world. He found this path when he became a PH.D. Candidate and research associate in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at Utah State University (USU). It was there that Braden met Dr. Regan Zane, who is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Utah State University and the Director at the Center for Sustainable Electrified Transportation (SELECT).

Regan had been working with a team of eight faculty members at USU for about 3 years developing the SELECT Center, including Dr. Jason Quinn. Dr. Quinn is Braden’s advisor and thought he would be the perfect contributor to their research on the environmental and economic impacts of electrified roadways. Together they have collaborated on something they are all very passionate about: electrifying highways.

Today, transportation is one of the most dominant factors in air pollution and C02 emissions. This Utah State University team has found a way to change pollution caused by fuel-engines indefinitely. Wheels.ca caught up with Regan and Braden to learn more about this invention that could change the fate of our environment.

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Wheels: What is an Electrified Highway?

Regan Zane: Electrified highways are highways that charge your electric vehicle while it is driving on the road. They include power distribution along the roadway, sensing and communications technologies for detection and coordination with your vehicle, and components to transfer energy to your vehicle while in-motion through a sliding contactor or wirelessly using inductive coils or capacitive plates.

Wheels: How did you come up with this idea?

Regan Zane: The concepts for wireless charging of electric vehicles have been around a long time. The new aspects are what make it practical, cost effective and safe. We are taking a holistic approach considering the electric vehicle drivetrain; roadway embedded charging infrastructure, electric utility, and vehicle automation. We’re developing new technologies to improve efficiency and reduce cost by bringing in leading faculty members and industry partners in each area.

Wheels: Why do you feel there is a need for this?

Braden Limb: There is a need for this technology because current electric vehicles are not being adopted due to limitations compared to conventional vehicles. These limitations include smaller range, long recharge times, and high purchase prices; all of which can be eliminated by electrified roadways.

Wheels: How would this invention change a driver’s commute?

Braden Limb: Ideally, this technology would not affect a driver’s commute at all. This technology is being researched because it provides a way for electric vehicles to be adopted by the masses without affecting a person’s current lifestyle.

Wheels: How much does it cost to install electric highways? Who would fund it?

Braden Limb: Electric highways are expected to have an average cost of 2 million $CAD per kilometer per lane. As of right now, it is undetermined who would pay for this technology. It is likely that governments would need to fund it initially, with a reimbursement plan in place such that the users of the technology would pay a premium rate for electricity while on roadways.

Wheels: What needs to be done in order to implement this?

Braden Limb: Initially, wireless charging of electric vehicles will only be while vehicles are stationary. Many car manufacturers are interested in wireless stationary charging for electric vehicles and it is expected new electric vehicles in the coming years will feature a secondary wireless power transfer pad so that stationary charging can take place at home and work. Once car manufacturers adopt wireless power transfer it increases the likelihood of electrified roadways significantly. Before governments adopt this technology, there needs to be a larger number of electric vehicles on roadways or a larger push towards electric transportation.

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Wheels: What are your next steps with this project?

Regan Zane: We have recently completed construction of a state-of-the-art Electric Vehicle and Roadway (EVR) research facility and quarter mile test electrified track, a facility uniquely designed for rapid development and evaluation of wireless in-motion charging concepts. We have demonstrated in-motion charging of a 22 passenger electric bus driving over a charging pad embedded in concrete on the test track. We are expanding the development to include multiple charging pads and autonomous vehicle controls.

Wheels: Do you think it’s a possibility this will actually happen? Do you think the government would invest the time and money in this?

Braden Limb: I do believe that this technology is a possibility. Governments have plans in place to decrease greenhouse gas emissions especially in the transportation sector. In recent times, Toyota has stated that it will stop selling traditional gasoline cars by 2050 and Norway plans to ban sales of new gas-powered cars by 2025. These examples show that the switch to electric vehicles is going to happen. It is likely that either electrified roadways or large battery systems will be the future of electric transportation. If battery systems don’t become cheaper and increase in energy density, it is expected that electrified roadways will be the future.

As car lovers, Wheels is excited about the possibility of driving the machines we love so much over long distances without negatively impacting the environment. However, we couldn’t help but wonder how long it could take for us to see electric highways and the majority of the cars on our commute electric powered. Regan told us that with aggressive government investment, widespread adoption from major cities and outward could happen within the next 10-20 years.

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