Monday, July 30, 2012

A New Kind of Electric Car

When thinking about investing in an electric vehicle, one of the key questions centers around keeping it charged for more than a quick trip to the grocery store. Nevertheless, electric cars are being considered by more of us as there are now models available ranging in price from as low as $20,000.  Some are hybrids that use a combination of batteries and a small internal combustion gas or diesel engine.  The top of the line Tesla models use only batteries.  Common to all of these cars is the relatively short driving distance when using only battery power.  Some can only travel 40 or 50 miles without a charge.  Even the pricey Tesla cars costing over $100,000 offer only between 200 and 300 miles between charging.   So even with the high cost of gasoline, replacing a gas powered vehicle with a totally electric model is not in the cards for most of us middle class commuters.

Up until now the industry model has been to have the electric power source on board the vehicle by using large heavy batteries.  These batteries are charged by plugging into a power source when the car is parked or by a combination of the gasoline motor and making use of the energy given off when the car is breaking or going down hill.  While battery technology has advanced beyond the lead acid type found in your standard car, there is still much progress to be made.

Some Japanese researchers are looking to change the way we power electric cars.  Their idea could address the limited range issue once and for all.  At Toyohashi University a group of engineers and scientists have successfully transmitted electricity through a
4 inch-thick concrete block.  The project is called EVER (Electric Vehicle on Electrified Roadway), and could someday be used to keep cars moving along a highway without any need to pull over for a recharge, thanks to a constant stream of electricity coming from below the road.

In New York or Washington, DC we are used to seeing trains powered by the transmission of electical currrent from the steel rail to the train motors.  This is the same principle but without the need for the steel rail.

The research is still very much a laboratory experiment.  It now requires tremendous amounts of energy to create the wireless transmission of electricity from below the road to the moving car above.   Engineers are confident that these issues can be addressed. 

Perhaps we will have hybrid cars that use internal power when traversing back roads and streets, but once they enter the expressway can run on the power radiating from below the road. Who knows, it may charge your cell phone at the same time.

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