Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wireless Electric Vehicles

The Power of the Open Road

South Korean Online Electric Vehicle (OLEV)
~ What will power our transportation future? The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has built a prototype magnetic train that runs on an electrical road:
On Tuesday researchers launched an environmentally friendly public transport system using a "recharging road"-- with a vehicle sucking power magnetically from buried electric strips.

The Online Electric Vehicle (OLEV), towing three buses, went into service at an amusement park in southern Seoul. If the prototype proves successful, there are plans to try it out on a bus route in the capital.
Our transportation future will not run on fossil fuels because those fuels will become increasingly expensive. Whether due to peak oil, or carbon pricing, or both, fossil fuels will eventually (and perhaps very soon) cost more than the alternatives: the various bio-diesel formulations and electricity. (The unlikelihood of such things as hydrogen power and fuel cells will be the subject, perhaps, of some future post.)

Current electric car technology is mostly seeking a transitional path through hybrids and plug-in hybrids, although fully electric vehicles are still mostly an expensive but exciting novelty. All-electric vehicles are constrained by the dual problems of being charged and then holding and using that charge to drive the vehicle meaningful distances. Many smart people and companies are working on these problems and they will eventually be solved in a practical way at a cost that will be acceptable, if only because the alternatives will not be.

The OLEV system bypasses these challenges because the power comes from the road, not from large, heavy batteries that must be recharged, typically for hours. KAIST claims the batteries in the vehicles will be only a fifth the size of those in a "conventional" electric vehicle and will require no "major" recharging. The system is similar to electric buses run from overhead wires, like the Metro 70 I take to the Hydrovolts office. However, not only are the wires are underground, but they needn't even be laid over the entire route:
Pick-up equipment underneath OLEV collects power through non-contact magnetic charging from strips buried under the road surface. It then distributes the power either to drive the vehicle or for battery storage.

If the system is used on Seoul bus routes, underground power lines would have to be installed on only 20% of the route at places like bus stops, parking places, and intersections, KAIST said in a statement.
Such smaller loops spaced along the route could even usefully be powered by distributed energy sources.

KAIST President Suh Nam-Pyo claims the cost is only a third that of the most competitive competing system:
Of all the world's electric vehicles, this is the most economical system... The potential for application [of this technology to public transport systems] is limitless. I dare say this is one of the most significant technical gains in the 21st century.
In a future electrified transportation system, this could be an exciting start.

Originally posted on the Hydrovolts blog 3/12/10.

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