Ready to charge your EV when driving?

TakePart | May 24, 2014

A road lights up in Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo credit: Mats Lindh courtesy Creative Commons

A road lights up in Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo credit: Mats Lindh courtesy Creative Commons

Despite the growing popularity of electric vehicles—U.S. sales almost doubled from 2012 to 2013—fewer than 100,000 Americans drove one home last year. One reason is that it takes longer to fill a battery with electrons than to put gasoline in a tank, and consumers don’t want to wait longer than they’re accustomed to. But what if cars could be charged while driving over a road that can wirelessly transmit grid electricity from cables underneath? Could such technology be the convenience drivers are looking for to make the switch to electric?

A new partnership between Volvo and the Swedish government is trying to chip away at both ends of a catch-22 scenario that’s among the obstacles the concept faces: Nobody wants to pay extra for a wireless-charging feature that can’t be used yet, and no one wants to invest in infrastructure for a fleet of cars that doesn’t exist. Along with the Swedish Transport Administration, the car manufacturer recently announced an effort to study the potential of building electric roads that can power EVs wirelessly, a process also known as inductive charging. If everything checks out, so to speak, the duo will construct a stretch of road up to one-third of a mile long as early as next year in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city.

“Electric roads are another important part of the puzzle in our aim of achieving transport solutions that will minimize the impact on the environment,” said Niklas Gustavsson, the Volvo Group’s executive vice president of corporate sustainability and public affairs.

The Swedes will not be the first to debut this type of cleantech infrastructure. Last year, the city of Gumi, South Korea, led the way by installing a 14-mile electric road that wirelessly charged electric buses equipped with an underside device. When the bus drove over cables embedded underneath the road surface, the device converted the cable’s magnetic fields to electricity, according to Discovery News.

A few years ago, a version of the South Korean buses ended up in Park City, Utah, and McAllen, Texas, via WAVE, an American company that licensed the technology. But unlike Utah, which now runs the buses (that get charged by parking over pads, not driving on a road) on its University of Utah campus, McAllen ran into financial problems, and the project stalled. Last November, the city decided to jump-start it once more. Other cities reportedly exploring these buses include Long Beach, Calif.; Monterey, Calif.; New York City; and Seattle.

How soon could wirelessly charged EV cars hit the market? With Toyota in the midst of testing three modified Prius models in Japan, it could be just a few years away.

Volvo has also been conducting experiments with wirelessly charging EV cars in Belgium with its C30 Electric model, according to Green Car Reports. If the car manufacturer’s electric road in Gothenburg becomes a reality, it will be built along a new bus line dubbed “ElectriCity,” and three of its plug-in hybrid buses currently running in the city will be modified to charge while in operation.

“Close cooperation between society and industry is needed for such a development to be possible,” said Gustavsson, “and we look forward to investigating the possibilities together with the city of Gothenburg.”

Photo of Gothenburg, Sweden road by Mats Lindh courtesy Creative Commons

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Los Angeles subway generates wind energy

TakePart | April 4, 2014

Los Angeles subway train

Los Angeles MTA subway train in tunnel

Here’s a next-gen idea that’ll blow you away: Using a specialized turbine during a 10-day period in August and September 2013, the Los Angeles Metro rail system was able to capture the wind power coming from passing subway cars—and turn it into renewable energy.

The 10-foot-wide wind turbine—custom-built for the project, which was initiated by Metro’s Environmental Compliance unit—generated an average of 77.7 kwH per day, an amount that could produce 28,000 kwH if projected over an entire year. That’s enough to power 12 homes in California during the same time period, or prevent the annual release of more than 17 tons of CO2 emissions from natural gas (and more than 30 tons of CO2 emissions generated from coal), according to Metro estimates.

“To our knowledge, Metro is the first transit agency to have implemented an actual test and have real data to report,” said Metro spokesperson Anna Chen. University students in India got permission to install a turbine in Delhi’s subway system last year, and a team of Korean designers floated the idea in 2010, but no results have been publicly released to date.

The turbine—known as MACE (multi-blade mass airflow collection equipment)—was designed by WWT Tunnel, a Pasadena, Calif.–based company that develops technology aimed at generating energy from previously unused sources.

It took a few months to design the equipment and several days for Metro to install the MACE unit, Chen said. Because Metro trains run for up to 20 hours a day and the subway system often undergoes repairs in the lull between operations, there was only a three- to four-hour window each day to install the unit without interrupting subway service.

The MACE turbine was placed on the base of a tunnel wall on Metro’s Red Line between the North Hollywood and Universal City stations and was removed after the pilot project was complete. The agency chose to install it at a middle section of the tunnel, where trains are estimated to run up to 70 miles per hour.

“It’s the best place to get the maximum amount of wind because as the train leaves the station, the wind pushes out before it, and then the train creates the drag,” Chen said.

MACE’s blades start spinning a minute before the train passes by and stop two minutes after the train passes. During the pilot, the unit made more than 1,070 revolutions per minute.

To make sure that the blades could safely operate once underground, Metro and WWT Tunnel conducted aboveground testing in which the turbine was run through a series of wind simulations.

“They wanted to make sure that nothing broke off if the blades spun at maximum speeds,” Chen said.

Metro anticipates that it can store any excess wind energy produced by the turbines for use during times of peak demand. Because the trains run on a regular schedule, the underground wind energy can be a more reliable source of renewables than solar or aboveground wind.

But Metro is not ready to regularly start spinning the blades yet. Using the data collected during the pilot, it will release a report later in the year that will analyze the feasibility of the idea, as well as the effectiveness of MACE turbines.

“We’ll be making recommendations on how we can implement this throughout the system as a whole,” Chen said.

View the original story here.

Photo of Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway train in tunnel via Wikimedia Commons