Volvo Group's venture capital subsidiary said it is putting some money behind Philadelphia-based Momentum Dynamics Inc., a maker of high-powered wireless charging systems for electric vehicles. Truck and auto OEMs partner with advanced technology companies of all kinds, but this investment points to and could help answer a critical question when it comes to electric commercial trucks.
Why think and plan based on the current diesel-dominant transportation model if this isn't diesel?
Particularly when it comes to supporting commercial vehicles and equipment, the nation's EV infrastructure is a hurdle—maybe the biggest—to any broad deployment of electric trucks. The electric truck discussion is often limited to things like urban delivery, waste and refuse collection, port and drayage work, or daily-return-to-depot trucking.
Even such short-range electric trucking operations would strain the current U.S. electric grid if they caught on enough. Innovative thinking is needed, and Volvo has signaled its support for a technology that could help change the problem's dynamics altogether: wireless charging.
Momentum Dynamics has powerful wireless charging systems up to 300 kW that it says can automatically connect and safely pass information and all that electricity through a magnetic field. It skirts the issue of having to physically plug in a hazardous mega-power charger, and these systems manage to work even through wind, snow, ice, or water, giving them some attractive potential in commercial-grade use.
That's how they work, but more significant is what this tech could pave the way for. These charging systems could create all-new opportunities and locations for partial charging and extending range by topping up vehicle's batteries. Such chargers could be installed at truck depots, shippers, receivers, truck stops, rest areas, other parking spaces, weigh stations, even stoplights—anywhere there's road and vehicles that hover over it.
Breaking out of what is
Approaching EV infrastructure is like building an electric vehicle itself. You can take a car or truck with an internal combustion engine and give it an electric powertrain, but that means dealing with systems that sprung up around a whole different set of engineering requirements.
Going ground-up with the design could be costlier initially but allows you to think more freely outside of carryover constraints.
Electric trucks could offer a range of significant benefits vs. diesel equivalents—improvements in environment, health and wellness, business profitability, and vehicle performance included in that range—with the necessary infrastructure to support them. Without that, they're a boutique transportation solution.
It's partly because commercial EVs are trying to fit into a system of duty cycles, driver jobs, depot and truck stop locations, etc. that developed around the capabilities of diesel and infrastructure to support it. Fill up a truck with diesel and send it as far as you can, for example, and tank up as necessary; keep going as far/ efficiently as you can with all the factors involved to get the job done.
Momentum Dynamics' technology has charging pads both under a vehicle and in/on the ground that connect and form a magnetic field through which electricity and data pass. In a video, the company shows how the field won't affect a cellular call or cause risk of harm or shock. Volvo offered some discussion of how this could help change, perhaps drastically, the refueling part of the transit equation when it comes to commercial EVs.
"Wireless electric charging allows any type of vehicle to automatically and without supervision connect to the electrical power grid without the use of wires or cables. Without the need for a driver to plug in their vehicle to a charging station, automatic and bi-directional 'electric fueling' may occur frequently and opportunistically—resulting in efficient use of battery capacity, longer driving ranges, and improved uptime," the OEM noted in a release on the Momentum investment.
It mirrors a point that Tobias Bergman, product manager for alternative drivelines at Volvo Trucks, made last year as the OEM demonstrated its electric European cabover trucks. Fleets thinking of trying electric vehicles may have more options than they're currently envisioning, he said.
For example, do you need longer overall range and the battery bank to support that on trucks, or would less battery and more payload be smarter if you have opportunities to partially charge trucks throughout their runs?
"For commercial vehicles, charging can easily be done on daily routes. Pulling up to a loading dock is not just for deliveries and loading packages," Momentum Dynamics explains in a video on its charging systems. "Automatic, wireless charging can take place during the time deliveries are being made."
It could work even in short stops or many passenger vehicle situations, the company added: "In the same time it takes to pick up a few things from the store, a driver using a wireless charger can add an extra 25 miles of driving range."
Add in tech like autonomous driving capability, and it's not hard to imagine ways to apply this to save more time and automate: a truck driver returns to a depot and hops off the truck after checking in, for example, while the vehicle takes itself on and parks back in line over a charging pad.
In "a fast-changing environment" of electric vehicles and related technologies, Stefan Söderling, investment director at Volvo Group Venture Capital, said in a statement that the company sees "partnership, cooperation, and investments as the way forward."
Those partnerships like this one thereby also give insight to the OEM's development efforts—and how those and others might help commercial electric vehicles find unexpected "ways forward" as the technology itself evolves.