Wireless EV charging is off to the races

Source: Julia Pyper, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2014

A new breed of race car will hit the track this fall that sounds as powerful as a jet engine and produces zero tailpipe emissions.

The FIA Formula E Championship is the world’s first exclusively all-electric racing series. This week marked the new Formula E vehicle’s public debut on the Las Vegas strip in conjunction with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

The Spark-Renault SRT_01E, designed by Spark Racing Technologies, is capable of reaching speeds greater than 150 mph and reaching 60 mph in 2.9 seconds without using a drop of gasoline.

And soon it won’t even have to plug in.

Through a multiyear partnership with the smartphone chip maker Qualcomm, the Formula E series plans to use wireless electric vehicle charging as soon as its second season in 2015. The Qualcomm Halo wireless charger is also on display this week at CES.

“This is quite new technology. It’s still being developed; it’s not something we’ll have for the first season, but season two or three,” said Tom Phillips, spokesman for the Formula E Championship. “Then, hopefully, that technology will find a way to filter down to electric cars of the future.”

There are two ways wireless technology would work in a race scenario, Phillips said. One way is to park the cars over the wireless charging pad. The other is to install sensors all around the race track that would give the vehicles a charge every time they drove over, also known as dynamic charging.

The Formula E race is currently set up so that each driver has two cars with batteries that can last 20 to 30 minutes depending on how hard they’re pushed. When the first car runs out of charge, the driver takes it to the pits and swaps it out for the other. On-the-go wireless charging could lengthen the duration of the race or allow the cars travel even faster.

Coming soon to a garage near you 

Wireless vehicle charging, which uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy, made great strides toward commercialization in 2013, according to Navigant Research. In June, Bosch began offering the Plugless Power unit developed by Evatran for $3,000. The system is designed to serve popular EV models the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt.

“In 2014, wireless charging will enter a critical phase as the first large-scale pilot projects and retail sales of chargers from Evatran/Bosch occur,” said John Gartner, research director at Navigant.

Last December, Toyota Motor Corp. made a commitment to offer wireless charging to its EV customers in signing an agreement with wireless power transfer startup WiTricity. The automaker, which sells a plug-in version of the Prius, will begin verification of the technology in Japan, Europe and the United States this year.

The Society of Automotive Engineers also agreed on a single frequency and three power levels for light-duty vehicle charging in 2013. The decision will ensure interoperability among vendors’ different wireless systems.

“The Society of Automotive Engineers’ recent decision to standardize on the 85 [kilohertz] frequency for wireless charging is a significant step that will encourage automakers to offer wireless charging on their vehicles in future models,” Gartner said.

“Once commercialized, wireless charging offers convenience and simplicity that will attract new buyers to the EV market,” he added.