Articles, Car-Electronics, Smart Mobility

The Quest For Gas-Free Mobility

Electric cars still make up a small portion of the vehicles produced by most manufacturers. Will this ever really change?

Mark C. Boyadjis, global connected car lead at IHS Markit, has had positive experiences driving an electric car. Yet he still feels that, due to the entrenched infrastructure that favors fossil fuels, gas-free mobility is an “idealistic” concept. According to Boyadjis, the three main problems are battery efficiency, the charger infrastructure (or lack thereof) and battery charge speeds.

Range Anxiety Reigns Supreme

Boyadjis put this into perspective by explaining what happened while testing a Nissan Leaf. With 150 miles left on his battery, he began to calculate his transportation needs and the likelihood that he would arrive there and back without needing a charge. “That doesn’t even factor into your head if you’re driving a car with a gas engine,” he said. “If the fuel light comes on you just stop at a gas station. So getting to gas-free mobility is idealistic only because of the complexities of making electrification work.”
“It’s the anxiety of saying, ‘If I run out of energy, it’s not just the next exit,’” he added. “And if it is, then I might have to spend an hour or two [charging it] versus five minutes [to refuel my car].”

Wireless charging – a feasible solution?

How important is wireless charging in future? Driving up and getting a charge or also automatically reenergizing your car as you’re cruising down the highway - Is this feasible or fantasy?

John Verboncoeur, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering at Michigan State University, explained that while it is possible and has been done before (to an extent), wireless charging is very difficult. “Not only is this not fantasy, but it’s actually not even a recent technology,” said Verboncoeur. “It goes all the way back to the late 1800s with Nikola Tesla, who originally developed the technology to remotely transmit power. He used to power up lights remotely and show that he could turn a light on without having it connected to any wires.” This works fairly well when the item is in close proximity to a source of energy, which is why smartphones still can’t charge wirelessly without resting on a charging pad. The greater the distance between the object and the charger, the more difficult wireless charging becomes. In the case of an electric vehicle, Verboncoeur explained how wireless charging could work and the various pitfalls that keep it from happening.

“It’s not easy for a moving vehicle, so you want to have some dwell time to transmit energy,” he said. “But for a static vehicle at a stop light, you might be able to transmit, let’s say, 5% of a charge in 60 seconds. Or something reasonable like that with some advanced technologies for fast charging.” That sounds like a good start, but there’s a catch. “The challenge is that these work by having a coil, so it’s not that different from a transformer,” Verboncoeur explained. “Let’s assume we have two wires in two different loops. One is in the ground, and if it generates an AC current through the wire, then you have an AC magnetic field. You can pick up that AC magnetic field with a receiver, which is the other wire loop. That’s a way to transmit energy.” An iron core connects those loops in a traditional charger, ensuring a fair amount of energy efficiency. Wireless chargers have an open air gap that allows energy to spread out everywhere, preventing the device (in this case a motor vehicle) from collecting more than a fraction of the energy. “One could imagine a car where you maybe drop something down to the roadway and lift it up when you’re ready to go, but that leads to more moving parts and complexity and would probably require some sort of standardization,” Verboncoeur added.

About the author:

Louis Bedigian is an experienced journalist and contributor to various automotive trade publications. He is a dynamic writer, editor and communications specialist with expertise in the areas of journalism, promotional copy, PR, research and social networking.