As prices fall and availability increases, some of the final barriers to mass adoption of electric vehicles are range anxiety and charging times. But one prototype test track in Italy solves these two problems by using the same technology that makes it easy to charge your smartphone wirelessly.
Although early electric vehicles were often recommended for shorter daily trips or city driving due to their limited range, there are now lots of promising options well over 300 to 400 miles of travel before the vehicle batteries need to be recharged. But what further complicates a long journey in an electric car is that even the fastest charging stations require at least half an hour to charge the rechargeable batteries, and usually much longer than that depending on the range. of the vehicle. Compare that to filling a gas tank, who only takes a few minutes, and it is logical that some drivers are still reluctant to go electric.
Battery life and charging times will inevitably improve over time, but other companies are looking at completely different solutions that could eliminate charging pit stops altogether. Stellantis isn’t exactly a household name when it comes to automakers, but it’s the parent company of iconic brands like Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, and even Maserati. Like any automaker hoping to stay relevant for the next few decades, it is investing heavily in electric vehicle research and recently unveiled a unique new test track in Chiari, Italy, called the “Arena del Futuro” circuit ( Arena of the Future) that could potentially allow electric vehicles to do laps indefinitely without ever needing to stop and recharge.
Instead of bending the laws of physics and creating a trail that perpetually descends like an impossible loop from a painting of Escher, Stellantis, along with a handful of corporate partners, has integrated a series of coils just below the asphalt surface of the Arena del Futuro track as part of a system called Dynamic Wireless Power Transfer, or DWPT. It’s more or less a similar approach to the charging pad that lets you just lay your smartphone down to charge its battery without having to plug anything in, with DWPT using a long string of coils to transfer power while a vehicle is still in motion.
The track operates on direct current, which allows it to be directly connected to renewable energy sources such as solar panels or wind turbines. It also facilitates the use of thinner aluminum wires, which require fewer materials to manufacture, are easier to recycle, and cost half as much as cabling made from materials like copper. To take advantage of the track’s power-sharing capabilities, an EV simply needs to be upgraded with a special receiver that sends power directly to its electric motor. In testing, a Fiat New 500 was able to maintain highway speeds while circling the track without having to use the energy stored in its batteries.
The system is completely safe for anyone inside an electric vehicle driving over it, and even safe for pedestrians crossing a road with the coils installed. There are, however, some challenges to this approach. The system provides enough power to run a Fiat New 500, but it’s a relatively small vehicle with minimal payload. Larger vehicles like buses or transport trucks may need multiple receivers, but this also raises the question of how many vehicles can share the road and still consume enough energy to run the engines. Would a heavy traffic jam force vehicles to start drawing power from their batteries to keep running?
The power coils also only occupy a thin strip of the road, and proper alignment of the vehicle’s coils and receiver are essential for efficient power transfer. BBut the advent of autonomous vehicle technologies could be a solution to this problem. The biggest problem facing the widespread adoption of the DWPT system is the work required to improve roads across the country with the coils. It doesn’t require the roads to be completely ripped up: a small groove for the coils is cut out and patched up afterwards, but it’s still a massive infrastructure project. Given the country’s resistance to just making sure the bridges are safe to drive onit might be a tough sell on this side of the pond.