Green Fleet of the Month: Embedded solutions

March 1, 2012
Electric vehicle “range anxiety” could become a thing of the past

Back in January, I wrote a blog entry about a technology being deployed in Texas by Massachusetts-based OLEV Technologies (See the blog post here). The $2.1 million system, called the On-line Electric Vehicle Bus Project, is being tested in McAllen, TX, and is primarily funded with grant money from the Federal Transportation Administration's Transit Investment in Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction program.

The problems to date with all-electric vehicles are how far they can go on a single charge and how quickly they can be recharged. Range is not an issue if you remain under the 80 or 100 mi. limits most vehicles have and can return to a central charging station at night. But what if you don't?

In McAllen, OLEV is utilizing a technology originally developed at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. It allows vehicles to be charged wirelessly through road-embedded power tracks. The system uses “shaped magnetic field in resonance (SMFIR) technology to overcome hurdles related to current, voltage, and frequency,” the company said. According to OLEV, the technology has major benefits over typical electric vehicle systems. Chief among them is the ability to provide unlimited driving range and the utilization of a smaller battery, thereby reducing overall vehicle weight. And because the vehicle is continuously charged, there is no need to install expensive recharging stations or wait eight or ten hours while a vehicle is charged, the company pointed out. Another advantage.

In McAllen, the system will be tested with three city buses retrofitted with electric-drive systems.

“This project will demonstrate the overall effectiveness of using enroute-charging technology to create an effective electronic roadway, as well as the cost-effective means of converting buses from the existing diesel fleet to electric vehicles,” said Dr. Hikyu Lee, president & CEO of OLEV Technologies.

This is not the only system of this sort out there, as was pointed out by a couple of people who posted comments to that original blog entry. Canada-based Bombardier Inc. offers PrimoveCity, a very similar system designed for cars, buses, trucks, trams or light rail. PrimoveCity uses inductive power transfer through invisible cables in the road, the company said. In fact, there are many passenger rail systems that utilize electricity, as we know, to power the trains, trams, subways, etc. Why can't that technology be implemented into vehicles that move people and freight?

There are plenty of questions that remain, such as the cost to install and maintain a system such as OLEV's. Could it be a solution for long-haul, cross-country movement of freight where trucks are traveling along long stretches of equipped Interstate roadways? Could it even generate enough power to keep an 80,000 lb. truck motoring down the highway at 60 mph? Just another question that needs to be answered. Maybe we'll find the technology is best suited for city driving or rural routes. Maybe we'll find it's not for trucking at all.

The big question, though, is how do you pay for it? Would it be a user-based system, or would we tap into federal highway dollars? There are a lot of questions that remain beyond just whether the system would work for trucking. But there is another option out there now, and that is progress.

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