Auto industry cuts the cord on electric car charging

Major stumbling blocks to wireless charging -- power loss and slow recharging time -- need to be worked out

Next year, some manhole covers in New York City will double as wireless-charging stations for electric vehicles equipped with wireless receivers.

Also in 2014, Toyota plans to test a wireless charging Prius in Japan, Europe and the U.S.

Auto electronics giant Delphi has partnered with WiTricity, the first company to create wireless vehicle charging pads, and is developing technology electric vehicles (EVs) that could be used industrywide.

As hybrid and electric vehicles gain popularity, consumers also want them to be as simple to power up as gas-fueled cars and trucks. One way to do that is to remove the charging wires and have the vehicles recharge simply by parking over a wireless charger. Imagine, for example, delivery trucks that never need to refuel because there are "green zone" parking spaces that offer automated wireless charging.

According to research firm IHS Automotive, fast-charging technologies, such as those at WiTricity and New York City-based HEVO, are driving the growth of the electric vehicle charging market.

The number of wireless charging stations established worldwide is expected to climb by a factor of more than 100 from 2012 to 2020, according to IHS Automotive. Fast-charging stations for EVs are set to reach 199,000 locations globally in 2020, up from just 1,800 last year.

"The number of these stations, meanwhile, is anticipated to rise more than threefold in 2013 to 5,900 and then nearly triple to 15,200 in 2014. Overall growth will continue at a rapid pace through 2020," IHS stated in its report.

HEVO's manhole cover chargers

New York's wireless charging manholes -- technology from the city's own startup HEVO Power -- are part of a pilot project that will be rolled out in the Washington Square Park area in early 2014.

HEVO, which stands for hybrid and electric vehicle optimization, partnered with New York University, and will use two wirelessly equipped Smart Fortwo electric cars to test the practicality and efficiency of the manhole chargers.

HEVO, however, is focused on the bigger business of powering commercial electric fleets owned by companies such as Frito-Lay and Pepsi.

Manhole charger
What HEVO's wireless-charging manhole parking spaces may look like in New York City. (Photo: HEVO Power)

Like all wireless charging technology for automobiles, HEVO's manhole covers work via electromagnetic resonance, which makes a magnetic connection between a charging coil to a car equipped with a wireless charging coil.

HEVO has also garnered interest from the cities of Santa Monica, Calif., and San Francisco for tests in early 2014, but there have been no commitments yet, according to Gregory Stahl, HEVO's chief marketing officer.

HEVO did not disclose the cost of its wireless charging manhole covers, but said the technology will be competitive with other systems already on the market at prices ranging between $3,500 and $5,000.

One major stumbling block to widespread EV adoption is the length of time it takes to recharge vehicle batteries.

While it takes a few minutes to refuel a gas-powered vehicle, the recharge time for EVs is about four hours for a 24 kilowatt-hour (kWh)-capacity battery using a 6.6 kW on-board charger, according to Alastair Hayfield, associate research director at IHS Automotive. Such a battery would work on a standard size economy car, such as the Nissan Leaf.

"If EV auto manufacturers could overcome this obstacle, it could lead to a high rate of adoption from environmentally minded consumers as well as those seeking to cut gasoline expenses. That's where fast charging comes in," Alastair said in a recent IHS report.

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