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Michigan Pilot to Test Potential of In-Road EV Charging

A one-mile pilot project in Detroit will explore the technology and use cases for in-road, wireless EV charging. The technology has the potential to change how fleet vehicles and others charge on the go.

Cabstands, loading docks and even bus lanes could ultimately become locations for wireless, invisible electric vehicle charging.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) — in coordination with several other partners — has begun a five-year project to develop and test a one-mile stretch of in-road, wireless EV charging. The project will address a number of key questions around what are the best use cases for in-road charging, charging speeds and how does the electric infrastructure work within the larger power grid and energy demands on an area, say officials.

MDOT will use the pilot project in Detroit to “develop best practices for wireless electric road system (ERS) implementation, management and deployment methods,” said Michael Frezell, communications manager with the Office of Communications at MDOT, adding the agency will also “analyze the demand from the grid, identify use cases, standards and specifications for the technology to ensure open platforms.”

Electreon, an Israeli company, has been selected as the chief technology partner. Electreon has been involved in similar projects in a handful of European countries and Israel. Electreon will operate largely as a project manager, bringing together a number of stakeholders, like Ford on vehicle integration and the city of Detroit for project permitting.

“Our role is to not only integrate technology to the project, but also other actors,” said Stefan Tongur, vice president of business development at the company.

It’s not anticipated that in-road wireless charging would become a component of every roadway. The technology is expensive and would require a significant upgrade to infrastructure. But it could have particular value in areas like transit lanes or delivery zones and cabstands where vehicles could pick up a quick charge while they wait for a next assignment.

The technology could allow vehicles to be equipped with smaller, less expensive batteries, since the batteries could be recharged while in use, said Tongur.

Transit lanes, or transit centers where buses congregate, could also be particularly well suited for wireless charging.

“We know where they [buses] go, where they start, where their routes are. And we can combine that with static charging at terminals, when they stop five minutes, 10 minutes,” explained Tongur. “The driver doesn’t need to connect it. You don’t have bulky infrastructure. Everything is kind of invisible, under the ground, under the vehicles.”

The integration with transit vehicles is a use case the Detroit project aims to explore, said Frezell.

Another use case could be small, last-mile shuttles, or last-mile delivery vehicles.

“Especially in locations where these last-mile delivery vehicles stop for 10 minutes, 15 minutes or so, and you have a couple of those locations in the city, along the routes,” said Tongur, adding these vehicles could then benefit from smaller batteries, which drives down their overall costs.

To be clear, the use cases for wireless charging will likely develop within the commercial fleets arena, where these specially designed vehicles can be outfitted with the appropriate charging technology. Conventional, personally driven EVs will generally be recharged using the standard charging equipment in use today.

Electreon recently signed an MOU with taxi operators in New York City and Las Vegas to begin working with EVs, to develop wireless charging in areas like airports, hotels and cabstands.

“It is a journey that we’re doing with a lot of different OEMs, as we speak,” said Tongur. “We have many, many OEM partners where we integrate together with. And eventually there will be a process where a client can order, with wireless.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.

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