Look Ma, No Wires!
Do you like to visit gasoline stations? Do you enjoy getting your hands dirty on a gas pump’s grip, inhaling fumes, and standing in the cold or in the heat? If you live in Europe, do you like to get a persistent smell of Diesel on your hands, and sticky "derv" slime on your shoes' soles? Is waiting in line while six other customers’ credit cards are processed a pleasure? If not, then you might have thought: there must be a better way.
Then imagine this: in the evening, you pull into your garage. Your car’s display lights up with a question: “Charge now?” You press the “Yes” button. The display then says, “three hours remaining till 100% charged”. And that’s all you have to do.
Until recently, this kind of charging-by-electromagnetic-energy would have involved power losses; it would also have meant placing your car exactly above the charger plate (like you do when you charge your cordless toothbrush). A German company, WBT Datensysteme GmbH, has developed a system in which the charger plate can be at a distance of up to 18 centimeters from the vehicle, and still retain an efficiency of 93%.
The WBT system is compact, too: at a height of an unobtrusive 20mm, there is enough space under the lowest of sports cars.
Where’s the catch? Well, the receptacle unit on the vehicle weighs 15KG. And the price? Although Torsten Cymanek, WBT’s boss, says the charging plate will “soon” be cost-competitive to conventional cable chargers, what you’d pay at the moment would be around €7,500.00 per unit. Cymanek’s target for a large-scale roll out is around €2,000.00.
In contrast to cable chargers, wireless is vandal-safe, easy to handle, never needs an adaptor no matter which car your using, and can’t be damaged by a sloppy truck driver. And there is no danger -- no perception of danger, either -- of electric shock.
But is inductive charging really safe? All that power streaming through the air might fry somebody, right? Actually, with most other induction systems, if a soft-drink can (or even a wedding ring) was lying on the plate while your car was getting charged, then it would absorb a crucial amount of energy. No such problem with the WBT system: at a recent conference in Switzerland, Cymanek demonstrated how even if you drop a mobile phone under your car, it stays cool during the car’s charging process.
Comfort, but also productivity gains
Cars used by many companies, such as local delivery services, have a daily range of around 60 miles. In such cases, personnel has to spend valuable time filling up fuel tanks every four days or so. Settling payment for fuel is time-consuming too. The solution: go electric, load your company vehicles’ batteries automatically, and enjoy higher productivity.
(Not to forget, electric cars are great for urban and residential operations because they are quiet, zero emission, and don’t suffer from short-distance wear and tear, like internal-combustion vehicles do).
From “Park and Charge” to “Drive and Charge”
For a science-fiction-like peek into the future, imagine major roads that have built-in induction-charging coils, where you can load your car’s batteries on the go. The implications are revolutionary: electric cars would only need small batteries for a range of about 30 miles; for longer distances, you’d hit the electrified freeway.
A number of scientists are testing this principle; one claims electrifying Germany’s autobahns would be affordable. For trials, WBT installed a 400-meter test track, allowing a vehicle to travel at 80 km/h. According to Cymanek, it worked splendidly.
So aren’t home chargers going to be obsolete one day? Not so fast, says Cymanek. First, people need to understand the beauty of inductive charging at home, after which they’ll more likely accept large-scale “drive and charge” projects. But anyway, they’ll always be a need for home charging -- as long as the sun keeps on shining (on photovoltaic cells), at least.
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