Emerging Infrastructure

Inductive Charging

An emerging technology paints an interesting picture for one potential future of EV technology: inductive charging. The primary benefit of inductive charging is convenience to the user, because they do not have to plug in every time a charge is needed. Instead the car is parked directly over a charging pad embedded in the ground to create a wireless transfer of power to charge the battery through inductive charging.

Auto manufacturers that are currently looking into this technology include Nissan, Audi, and Volkswagen. Nissan reports that the charging system it is developing for the 2014 Infiniti is 80-90% efficient and it gets same range as a car that charges conductively.

Aside from auto manufacturers, the market for the wireless charging infrastructure is developing too. One notable company, Evatran, started in 2011, and has had several successful demonstration projects. Evatran is working with EV drivers who are participating in workplace charging programs through and impressive list of several employers: Google, Hertz Rent-a-Car, Duke Energy, Clemson University, SAP, Bosch, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, DTE Energy, City of Raleigh, Idaho National Laboratory, and Argonne Laboratories, with stations pending for UC Davis and the City of Sacramento.

While the focus for inductive charging is currently on stationary locations, some believe the future is in “charging on the go.” Charging strips laid into the ground in city centers can feasibly charge vehicles while they are in motion, or temporarily stopped, like at a red light. The South Korean town of Gumi is testing this concept with two buses on a fixed route. If they are successful, they plan to add 10 more buses in 2015.

Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has a task force working to create a standard for wireless charging, with expected completion by 2014 (SAE J2954).

Catenaries

The concept of catenaries dates back to the 19th century. Modern applications connect vehicles like buses, light rail, and even construction equipment to an overhead electrical line as a source of power. They are particularly effective for vehicles with fixed routes, and in Long Beach, CA there is an emerging application of this long established technology.

The project will initially deploy wayside power technology (catenary lines) to provide power to new zero-emission trucks (including battery-electric, fuel-cell, and hybrid-electric trucks with all electric range) along designated high-volume corridors. This will extended the zero-emission range of heavy-duty vehicles. The potential regional system includes the Terminal Island Freeway, the I-710 Corridor, the CA60 East-West Corridor, and the CA60 to the SB Rail Yard.

With some of the worst air quality in the U.S. the potential reduction in ozone and diesel particulates will be a significant benefit to Los Angeles County. One of the areas of opportunity outlined in the Southern California Regional Transportation Plan 2012-2035 is to create an East-West Freight Corridor along the I-710 segment, and target the deployment of zero-emission heavy-duty trucks. The challenge with zero emissions heavy-duty vehicles is that they do not readily lend themselves to common EV technology, due to the greater energy need to haul heavy loads, frequently over longer distances. Batteries are much more functional in smaller vehicles because the energy demand at any given moment is not as high. This is demonstrated by the high level of penetration of light-duty EVs.

Hybrid all-electric range (AER) trucks could produce zero-emissions along these key high-volume corridors, but could also operate off the electrified corridor powered by conventional natural gas or diesel fuels, by fuel cells, or batteries within a certain range. These possibilities enable the vehicles to be zero-emission in the areas where needed most, but still the flexibility for range and long distance travel in other modes. The development of this corridor will serve as an emerging infrastructure backbone to alternative vehicles in the area.

Hyperloop

The Hyperloop is an example of infrastructure that could potentially be developed over the next several decades. In short, the Hyperloop is a proposed high-speed transit system between Los Angeles and San Francisco, designed by Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors. Musk is no stranger to alternative transportation and the concept of the Hyperloop is proposed to take the place of California’s high-speed rail project, which he deems too expensive and inefficient.

The Hyperloop is a long stretch of low-pressure or near-vacuum tube through which transport pods, similar to train cars, are propelled on a cushion of air. Musk argues that the 350-mile commute can be completed in a little over a half-hour, with pods reaching speeds near 700 mph. The system is continuously generating energy from solar panels placed along the track, powering the pods. As a viable commuter option, the Hyperloop could transport as many as 7.4 million people per year, with pods carrying 28 people leaving as frequently as every 30 seconds. The cost of about $6 billion for the infrastructure would result in one-way tickets being around $20 plus operating costs.

The Hyperloop represents a forward-thinking approach to addressing some of the challenges to our existing transportation infrastructure, and as with any high-speed rail system, it has the potential to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and consumption of petroleum.

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