The professor of the Department of Engineering of the University of Colorado, Khurram Afridi, has recently presented his prototype of the “electric career”, to project that tends to make reality the possibility that vehicles can recharge their batteries without stopping.
The professor has worked for two years with other scientists and students in a system that allows energy to be transferred to the batteries of the electric vehicles at very high frequencies.
According to Efe Afridi, who did his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the technology itself is not new, as the inventor and engineer of Serbian origin, Nikola Tesla had already anticipated it at the end of the 19th century.
The project now completed is based on the paper “Multi-objective optimization of wireless transfer capacity for electric vehicle charging systems”, awarded at the IEEE COMPEL 2017 conference, which gathered at Stanford University (California) about 300 experts from 25 countries.
Currently, most electric vehicles can travel between 100 and 248 miles (160 to 400 kilometers) before needing to recharge, depending on the brand and the model.
The technology will go under the pavement
But electric recharging stations are not common gas stations, which limits the possibilities of the users of these vehicles.
The new technology will solve that problem. Electric vehicles can travel “hundreds or perhaps thousands of kilometers” without stopping, according to the University of Colorado scientist. “We want electric vehicles to be able to recharge on the road,” says Afridi, who does not hide the fact that the main problem to achieve the goal is to install the system on current roads.
“Users will not notice any difference because the technology will be below the pavement,” according to Afridi.
His idea is that on interstate highways in the United States “there could be a lane dedicated to recharging.” But installing these lanes on all roads is an immense task, since in the United States there are more than 46,000 miles (75,000 kilometers) of interstate highways, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Once those lanes are implemented and thanks to that continuous recharging, the batteries of the electric cars could be smaller than they are at present, which would lower or lower the cost of those vehicles and make them lighter.
The wireless transfer of electricity already exists, as cell phone users well know.
A solution behind the track of Tesla
The problem Afridi and his team solved was to bring that technology to the scale needed to recharge the batteries at high speed and that they require kilowatts for their batteries (compared to only 5 watts for cell phones).
The solution was to develop electric fields that move in a straight line and calibrate them in such a way that the distance between the road and the vehicle generates the necessary separation between the emitting and receiving plates of electricity so that the energy is transferred, he explained.
Working with his students, Afridi determined that, to transmit 1,000 watts, the optimal separation is 12 centimeters (4.7 inches).
“Until recently it was said that it was not possible to transfer so much energy through such a small capacity, but we did it by increasing the frequency of electric fields,” said Afridi.
The initial prototype, in which remote-controlled electric cars were used, was gradually improved and can now transmit kilowatts at frequencies measured in megahertz.
Afridi is now working with colleagues at the Colorado State University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to “optimize” their new system.
Storage for robots and forklifts
It is, he said, to complete the necessary tests before the technology is applied outside the laboratory. In the short term, the technology could be used in large storage centers in which robots and automatic forklifts move through recharging lanes, without having to go out of service to recharge their batteries, thus eliminating unproductive moments.
In the longer term and on a larger scale, the technology could perhaps be used in the Hyperloop between Los Angeles and San Francisco, or in another new high-speed transport system.
The magnitude of the project means that it will be necessary to overcome “technological and social obstacles”, but, Afridi said, scientists are dedicated to those things “that people say is impossible to do”