US offers $12M to develop wireless charging stations for electric vehicles

US Department of Energy wants full wireless charging technology for cars and trucks

If electric vehicles are ever to become commonplace, one of the biggest hurdles they must overcome is ease of recharging.  That's where full wireless charging technology would play a crucial role and today, the US Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory issued a call for to develop just that kind of technology for electric vehicles.

The DOE said it expects to pay $12 million total for up to four contractors to develop wireless charging technology that has the potential to significantly increase acceptance and convenience of electric vehicles while possibly facilitating smaller battery pack size, reduced vehicle weight, extended electric driving range and other economic benefits, the DOE stated. 

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" In the near term, static wireless charging technology will provide hands-free automated charging of a parked vehicle. This provides the convenience and freedom of static wireless charging where the driver's efforts are reduced to parking in a specified location instead of plugging in the vehicle," the DOE said.

Currently, recharging vehicle batteries from the grid requires the driver to physically connect the car or truck to the charging infrastructure in order to recharge. This process has included using a connector and cord set from either an electric vehicle supply equipment or fast charger, to make a physical connection to the vehicle, the agency said.

In the medium term,  what the DOE called "quasi-dynamic wireless charging" may provide energy to vehicles during a trip when the vehicle is not in motion but still in gear, such as when stopped at a traffic light, to extend the vehicles' range.  And ultimately, dynamic wireless charging could deliver energy to moving vehicles en route to their destinations. Quasi-dynamic and dynamic charging has the potential to reduce the vehicles' total energy storage requirements with cascading benefits of lighter and smaller battery packs, lighter vehicles, more range per unit of energy, and increased electric range for the consumer, the DEO stated. 

THE DOE lab said the system requirements it wants to see developed would include: requirements for

  • A power transfer efficiency greater than 85%,
  • A nominal power transfer of at least 3.3 kW. The minimum nominal power transfer is 3.3 kW, however, higher power transfer is encouraged.
  • A gap spacing and alignment flexibility over a reasonable range, consistent with conditions that would be experienced in real-world conditions. The calculated power transfer efficiency shall be based on measured input power at the wall source and measured output power at the GCEDV high voltage direct current (DC) bus.
  • Each potential contractor needs to integrate and demonstrate the technology in at least five (5) vehicles under on-road real world operation. The demonstration shall include at least five (5) wireless charging stations. The testing shall evaluate performance parameters to assess operational safety, convenience, reliability, flexibility, interoperability, efficiency, life-cycle costs, use patterns and range capabilities.

The DOE also notes that there are some technologies on the market today like High Resonance Inductive Power Transfer (HRIPT) for relatively efficient wireless power transfer at rates and gap geometries sufficient for recharging of Light Duty  vehicles. "Recent development prototypes of the technology have demonstrated the capability to wirelessly recharge light duty vehicles at power transfer rates of 3 kW and higher with reported gap power transfer efficiencies of 85-95%.   This level of capability may be suitable for residential applications. New products with higher power transfer rates are also under development."

The widespread adoption of current wireless charging technology into US production vehicles faces the potential hurdles of lower efficiency; increased development, vehicle integration, production and installation costs; evolving standards; and a limited track record demonstrating safe and reliable operations when integrated into a vehicle. Addressing these challenges quickly will help the technology gain a foothold in the market as a first step to delivering significant long term benefits for transportation electrification, the DOE concluded.

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