How to charge an electric car on the road.

Science Daily reports on a hurdle being cleared on the way to wirelessly charging a moving electric vehicle:

If electric cars could recharge while driving down a highway, it would virtually eliminate concerns about their range and lower their cost, perhaps making electricity the standard fuel for vehicles.

Now Stanford University scientists have overcome a major hurdle to such a future by wirelessly transmitting electricity to a nearby moving object.

The group built on existing technology developed in 2007 at MIT for transmitting electricity wirelessly over a distance of a few feet to a stationary object. In the new work, the team transmitted electricity wirelessly to a moving LED lightbulb. That demonstration only involved a 1-milliwatt charge, whereas electric cars often require tens of kilowatts to operate. The team is now working on greatly increasing the amount of electricity that can be transferred, and tweaking the system to extend the transfer distance and improve efficiency.

“In theory, one could drive for an unlimited amount of time without having to stop to recharge,” [study author Shanhui] Fan explained. “The hope is that you’ll be able to charge your electric car while you’re driving down the highway. A coil in the bottom of the vehicle could receive electricity from a series of coils connected to an electric current embedded in the road.”

Some transportation experts envision an automated highway system where driverless electric vehicles are wirelessly charged by solar power or other renewable energy sources. The goal would be to reduce accidents and dramatically improve the flow of traffic while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Just as major power plants generate alternating currents by rotating coils of wire between magnets, electricity moving through wires creates an oscillating magnetic field. This field also causes electrons in a nearby coil of wires to oscillate, thereby transferring power wirelessly. The transfer efficiency is further enhanced if both coils are tuned to the same magnetic resonance frequency and are positioned at the correct angle.

However, the continuous flow of electricity can only be maintained if some aspects of the circuits, such as the frequency, are manually tuned as the object moves. So, either the energy transmitting coil and receiver coil must remain nearly stationary, or the device must be tuned automatically and continuously — a significantly complex process.

To address the challenge, the Stanford team eliminated the radio-frequency source in the transmitter and replaced it with a commercially available voltage amplifier and feedback resistor. This system automatically figures out the right frequency for different distances without the need for human interference.

There’s video of the constant wireless power transfer up here.

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