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Volvo's electric roads concept points to battery-free EV future

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June 13, 2013

Volvo's Richard Sebestyen with the current collector connected to the rear of the test tru...

Volvo's Richard Sebestyen with the current collector connected to the rear of the test truck

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While quick charging technology installed at strategic points along a planned route might be a good fit for inner city buses, it's not going to be of much use to electric vehicles that stop infrequently. Volvo sees our future long-haul trucks and buses drawing the juice they need from the road itself, making large onboard batteries a thing of the past.

In addition to making a commitment that will see each new generation of diesel engine be more efficient than the last, Volvo is also actively engaged in EV research and development. As a member of a large research project, along with the Swedish Transport Administration, Vattenfall, Alstom, other vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, and several universities, the company is looking at ways to supply constant power to long-haul vehicles from an external source.

You could just fill up the precious cargo space of trucks and buses with enough batteries to make a long, non-stop journey, but where would you put the goods or passengers? Volvo, however, has something else in mind.

Along with power generation and transport firm Alstom, the company has constructed a 400 meter (1,312 ft) -long track at a facility in Hällered near Gothenburg, to test a truck fitted with a special collector that draws its power from rails installed into the surface of the road. It's an adaptation of technology that's been successfully used to supply electricity to trams in several cities around the world since 2003, and could help reduce an electric vehicle's dependence on big battery banks.

Volvo has been testing the technology at a 400 meter-long test track in a facility in Häll...

The two power rails/lines run along the road's entire length. One is a positive pole, and the other is used to return the current. The lines are sectioned so that live current is only delivered to a collector mounted at the rear of, or under, the truck if an appropriate signal is detected. As an additional safety measure, the current flows only when the vehicle is moving at speeds greater than 60 km/h (37 mph).

"The vehicle is equipped with a radio emitter, which the road segments can sense," explains Volvo's Per-Martin Johnansson. "If an electric vehicle passes a road segment with a proper encrypted signal, then the road will energize the segments that sense the vehicle."

The truck being used as a test bed for the project is a standard Volvo FH12 tractor sporting a diesel engine. There's no electric motor installed at the moment. When the collector comes into contact with the power lines, 750 V of direct current is delivered and routed to a water-cooled heating element, that has a similar power requirement to an electrically-driven truck. The collector has been designed to track the power rails, even when the vehicle is not directly over the middle of the contact lines.

The present phase of the project, which is supported by the Swedish Energy Agency, is set to come to a close soon, but Volvo is already discussing the next logical step. This will see the installation of an electric motor in the truck to determine how it fares on the test track. Johansson confirmed that other project members are working on various electricity delivery methods, including induction charging.

Elsewhere, companies like Siemens are looking into power delivery using overhead cables, but Volvo suggests that its development may prove a more attractive proposition.

"From what we have seen so far, overhead lines are a more expensive solution than the what we are testing right now," says Johansson. "Overhead lines have the additional drawback that they cannot be used by cars. The visual impact is also less appealing compared to a technology located in the road. But we're not ruling out a solution that uses overhead lines. The research in the coming years will hopefully show what will be best for society."

While technical development of the current collector, electric motor and necessary control systems continues, the research project is also considering how best to implement and maintain a deployed system. At the moment, this system is managed locally using smart sensors, but there is scope for remote operation and monitoring, and it's reported capable of providing much more power, if needed. There's also a possibility that the technology could be adapted to deliver AC in the future.

It's also likely that the power lines will be built into existing roads, rather than requesting the construction of new roads. The first vehicles to use such a system could well be hybrids rather than full EVs, to help guard against short power interruptions. Then there's the small matter of working out how much drivers will be charged to use such a system, and the subsequent setting up of payment models.

Source: Volvo

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37 Comments

Nice try! It's a frickin' slot car! It's bound to work in Canada!!!

Ian Jones
13th June, 2013 @ 02:26 pm PDT

OK, like most of it but what prevents a short circuit in wet weather or an accidental human/animal zap?

Max Kennedy
13th June, 2013 @ 04:16 pm PDT

It will be interesting to see just how well it stands up to a downpour - water and 750v DC don't get play very well together.

Another thing, how do they propose keeping the pickup pad on the tracks if the truck has to veer sideways from the straight line?

ivan4
13th June, 2013 @ 04:18 pm PDT

Would cost as much to retrofit old roads as to include in new ones. What happens if an animal - cat, dog, critter - runs across in front? A good choice, flattened or fried! And how many shorted-out sections before something runs out of stored power and grinds to a traffic-jamming halt?

The Skud
13th June, 2013 @ 07:07 pm PDT

OK for long haul routes maybe but useless in cities or rural.

Kes Keesha
13th June, 2013 @ 07:14 pm PDT

Max and ivan4: It uses a process called "induced current" a method where current from the source naturally generates a magnetic field, which in turn is converted back to an electric current in the pick-up.

Since the magnetic flux passes through insulation there is no exposed conductive material to short circuit.

Same technology is currently used to charge electric toothbrushes, except scaled down significantly.

The article also states that the pick-up uses smart tracking to keep it in position. From the photos it looks as though it slides left-right.

I cant see the 1000's of kilometers of Australian outback roads having this installed, though. Especially considering most of the are still dirt!

TheOne
13th June, 2013 @ 07:23 pm PDT

They already have things like this that can only go where the tracks dictate.......

(and if you missed it: Trains)

Matthew Giles
13th June, 2013 @ 07:41 pm PDT

Due to the track being made up of short segments that are only charged when a properly equipped vehicle is over or just ahead of it and moving at least at 60 km/h (37 mph) any animals that get fried have already been run over.

Pure water does not conduct electricity. The water in rain and snow is pretty pure. Precipitation on the track is not the problem problem that most people think. In places that do not get enough rain to clean the insulators on high-tension distribution lines they use a truck very similar to a fire truck to wash the insulators with pure water when the lines are live; nobody gets fried.

re; TheOne

The inductive system was mentioned only as a possible option that was being worked on.

re; Matthew Giles

Trains have to stay on the tracks the truck or other vehicle has to be able to get onto the highway and attain as speed of at least 60 km/h (37 mph) thus it has an engine or batteries and is capable of going places that the tracks do not go.

Slowburn
14th June, 2013 @ 12:08 am PDT

I can see this used for public transport. Maybe take off the speed limit and implement these tracks in bus stops. If the bus pulls in to take passengers it can load the batteries. Also You can put these tracks on large intersections where transport has to wait a long time.

Taavi
14th June, 2013 @ 01:26 am PDT

The guys at Volvo obviously do not read Gizmag or Science Daily otherwise they would know that the concept they are proposing is dead.

Sieg
14th June, 2013 @ 04:14 am PDT

The biggest danger to us all is that one of these systems mentioned is shown to work sufficiently well and cheap enough to support it being rolled out on a massive scale. Where then does the electricity come from? Heaven help us if the power generating companies turn to coal to meet the need.

If ever a time was ripe for LFTR nuclear power generation it is surely now.

Mel Tisdale
14th June, 2013 @ 04:47 am PDT

In Stanford university they have developed an EV with a current carrying conductor embedded in the road to inductively charge battery of EV.

srikrishna
14th June, 2013 @ 05:09 am PDT

Live current may have too many dangers. Eg. an overturned vehicle... Electromagnetic induction may have its own shortfalls, especially for quick charge. The electromagnetism may have the same dangers as living under a transmission line? Still, thee should be a solution in the not too distant future.

Nantha Kumar Nithiahnanthan
14th June, 2013 @ 05:37 am PDT

Two comments from an intellectually challenged fixie rider.

Firstly the general & commercial road user will go nuts at the disruption caused by the installation of such a system and secondly there is still the question of where the required electricity will come from in the longer term.

Until the problem of a clean, long term viable means of generating electricity is resolved this and just about any other new form of electric transport system is pretty much a dead end.

tony-k
14th June, 2013 @ 06:27 am PDT

We are already running into a cost/benefit failure with the current roads infrastructure. There simply is not enough money to make roads and bridges as it is without making them infinitely more complicated. The safety gadgets they are including are useful but present a huge complexity increase which means higher maintenance costs. So as a public works project this will never roll. If the power companies were to subsidize the project it might be feasible, but the power companies would never go for it.

That said more power to them. If they can somehow make this work and sell it it will permit electric vehicles to displace smog machines as it would remove range as an issue. For those who complain that it would require fossil fuel plants. It might but even so it would result in less real pollution than all the cars produce. I'm not taking CO2 into account, just the toxic byproducts of poorly combusted fuels that occur in an ICE. When LFTR and other thorium power generation take off there will be no benefit to using fossil fuel generators. By the time this system had significant uptake the Thorium generators would be ready for market so the arguement would probably be moot anyway.

VirtualGathis
14th June, 2013 @ 08:22 am PDT

Gentlemen...I applaud Volvo's endeavor to solve the "battery" issue with electric vehicles. The question is: will we apply the technology? Have our predecessors not come up with equal or better "solutions" in the past only to have their ideas or themselves wind up dead. It's the greedy guys in control of the world's resources that do not allow these concepts to see the light of day. Even this article talks about the charging for the use of the electric strip. The sun gives enough energy if we can harness it to power the "strip"...or the vehicle itself could have self electrical generation apparatus on board using the movement over a strip in the road, or the turning of the tires or....

The main issue is taking the greed factor out of the equation...then you will see a solution to transportation and all other problems. Time is coming when all problems will be solved...jw.org

Refreshing point of view
14th June, 2013 @ 10:08 am PDT

We already have crossed over to large and distributed (medium) wind and solar costing less than new fossil fuel plants; in a very few years it will get to the point at which they cost less than electricity from old fossil fuel plants other than natural gas; that will be eclipsed within 5 to 10 years.

Meanwhile, the cost of high-performance batteries will drop by more than half within a year, and they will be widely available within 5 years -- and keep dropping in price. They will store 12 kWh of electricity in the space of a conventional car-starting battery, and that will increase over time.

It will be straightforward to put enough storage on a vehicle for 10 to 100 miles, and it will create an enormous opportunity for shading our highways and roads with solar panels to generate all the electricity required locally. That market will pay for the cost of installing the pick-ups late at night, when all the traffic can be served with 1 or 2 lanes.

The low cost (amortized in less than 10 years, lasts 30 to 70) and environmental, socio-economic and efficiency benefits (compared to any centralized power generation system) will make such a distributed system very competitive with coal, thorium, and other top-down systems.

Mark Roest
14th June, 2013 @ 10:33 am PDT

I'll support anything that will keep big slow vehicles (such as buses, motor homes, dump-trucks and semi-trailer trucks) in the slow lane where they belong; particularly on highways and long uphill grades.

Mirmillion
14th June, 2013 @ 11:08 am PDT

"One is a positive pole, and the other is used to return the current." Sorry, current runs from negative to positive, not the other way around.

Also, one thing Volvo hasn't answered: Who pays for the electricity.

Bob Humbly
14th June, 2013 @ 12:23 pm PDT

Its a stupid idea and I will tell you why. The connection itself draws power and is drag on the car. It is much more efficient to simply have a battery.

Goddard
14th June, 2013 @ 12:36 pm PDT

good luck in snow.

frogola
14th June, 2013 @ 01:03 pm PDT

I have to wonder if this isn't compatible with Witricity, by having transmitting antennae buried several cm below the road surface the issue of fried roadkill becomes moot.

William H Lanteigne
14th June, 2013 @ 01:31 pm PDT

Why didn't they make the test track in circle so they could just keep on testing it rather than going only 400 meters?

JLP
14th June, 2013 @ 01:32 pm PDT

"If an electric vehicle passes a road segment with a proper encrypted signal, then the road will energize the segments that sense the vehicle."

Translation: This will allow billing per mile/kilometer and tracking all vehicles using the system, same as is used to bill and track vehicles using automatic road and bridge toll payment and cell phones.

Add this to the ways police will be able to track "persons of interest".

Gregg Eshelman
14th June, 2013 @ 02:31 pm PDT

Also, where I live, it snows.. So what happens when a "Plow Truck" has this big steel blade across both tracks? Sounds like a short circuit to me. At least the idea didn't work in my favor with my slot-car track 25 years ago... Maybe things have changed?

Adam Ackels
14th June, 2013 @ 03:46 pm PDT

So how about various nice long straight sections for topping of EVs, hybrids and plugin-hybrids instead of expecting to power vehicles the entire trip? Production EVs already go over 100 miles on a charge so with a few of these charger strips along the way they may be little need to stop on 500 miles trips but to relieve oneself.

doog
14th June, 2013 @ 06:33 pm PDT

"It will be interesting to see just how well it stands up to a downpour - water and 750v DC don't get play very well together.

Another thing, how do they propose keeping the pickup pad on the tracks if the truck has to veer sideways from the straight line?"

ivan4

13th June, 2013 @ 04:18 pm PDT

- Volvo not cars is a Swedish company and they likely have plenty of chance to try that, solve it and have thought about the issues. As far as control goes I suppose robotics work for both moving the arm and keeping the truck on track and if it stears away and loses connection you can have batteries for that small part.

"What happens if an animal - cat, dog, critter - runs across in front? A good choice, flattened or fried!"

The Skud

13th June, 2013 @ 07:07 pm PDT

- Animals on roads always got that issue. If there's no truck there's no electricity and if there is a truck there is electricity. Whatever the animal will still be there then or would get hit anyway I don't know but I assume they understand that some deaths can accur. People I just have to stay away from the roads when trucks are coming.

"OK for long haul routes maybe but useless in cities or rural."

Kes Keesha

13th June, 2013 @ 07:14 pm PDT

- It's the long distances which is the problem. Within a city you could drive on batteries for instance.

Hagge Aliquis
14th June, 2013 @ 10:23 pm PDT

Roads get resurfaced from time to time so track instillation need not be a hugely expensive undertaking.

The idea that cars can not use overhead power lines is just stupid. They will suffer a higher aerodynamic penalty but if electrical prime movers are as efficient as claimed this is not a deal breaker.

As long as EVs are battery powered EVs are going to be impractical.

re; Goddard

Batteries are expensive.

Batteries are heavy creating more drag than the sliding conductor connection.

Batteries loose more energy to heat in charging that the sliding conductor connection looses total.

re; Bob Humbly

You are stating as fact things that are only conjecture; there are other valid opinions including one that has 'holes' moving in the opposite direction from the apparent electron flow. Many in electronics design work from the theory that electricity flows from positive to negative. Until we can violate the uncertainty principal we can not actually know how electricity flows.

re; Adam Ackels

The track is live only when an appropriately equipped vehicle tells it to be. so a self powered truck, or a truck longer than the track's conductor segments can use a electrically conductive blade to push snow of the track. However in places where installing the electricity supply track it is cost effective to remove snow by heating the road surface. Also the bottom of the snow blade can be made out of non conductive material.

Slowburn
15th June, 2013 @ 05:15 am PDT

We still based upon conventional roads. Some also accompany the rivers, as if we needed to stop for give drinking to horses, something almost impossible today, because all of them, currently affected by pollution.

Buses and trams are moved by electicity for a long time and the method of charging is very similar to this, only more intelligent, because it is cheaper, is not on the ground, subject to traffic, flooding, snow and premature wear.

Nothing better than inductive charging, hidden underground, powered by solar or wind, while do not replace wheels, motors and batteries by magnetic levitation.

Sergius
16th June, 2013 @ 02:48 pm PDT

What about snow and ice along with the huge amounts of salt used? What about the snow plow blade catching the track? What about pieces of scrap metal that get drug up and simply how much wear would you get from sand and gravel on the road?

Bob
16th June, 2013 @ 04:25 pm PDT

re; Sergius

The efficiency of inductive charging decreases with the distance between transmitter and receiver and and with the increasing relative velocity between transmitter and receiver. given current efficiency of such inductive charging systems It would more than double the problem of generating the additional electricity to add EVs to the already overstressed grid.

re; Bob

In places where it would be cost effective to install the track it is also cost effective to remove snow and ice by heating the road surface. Therefor the salt, sand, or gravel problem is limited.

Presumably the rails will be robust enough and well enough designed that it would take considerable effort to dig it up and not something that a snowplow would achieve.

Debris from other sources would still be a problem but sensors on the vehicle could detect the debris and lift the contact pad over it. With today's connected world the EV's electronics could send a message to road maintenance with the location and a picture of the offending item with out the driver being involved, and preferably without the vehicle being identified.

Slowburn
17th June, 2013 @ 12:44 am PDT

surface transportation needs to follow the Dodo

Stewart Mitchell
17th June, 2013 @ 07:55 pm PDT

re; Stewart Mitchell

What do you think should replace it?

How much do you think it will cost?

Slowburn
18th June, 2013 @ 03:33 pm PDT

Might work well with solar roads.

Or build high speed rail.

William D Adams
18th June, 2013 @ 03:41 pm PDT

A system which solves the Volvo drawbacks (cannot be used on snow and heavy rainfall because of aquaplaning) is described in http://www.hybrid-engine-hope.com/hybrid_transport_system

This system is created both for trucks (buses) and passenger cars and is not weather dependent.

Liviu Giurca
21st June, 2013 @ 01:24 am PDT

Wireless transmission of electrical power from roadside power rail to vehicle will be the real key. Something I'v been thinking about for years.

Richard Dicky Riddlebarger
25th June, 2013 @ 09:09 am PDT

So, uhhh... trolleybus?

Sutherland Robin
25th June, 2013 @ 03:49 pm PDT
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