University Research Team Works to Develop Highway Infrastructure that Charges EVs While Driving

September 21, 2021 by Darshil Patel

Researchers look to develop highway infrastructure with magnetizable concrete that can charge electric vehicles while driving.

Battery-electric vehicles are gaining traction globally due to various factors such as a decline in battery prices, an increase in fleet electrification, and various policies and regulations related to carbon emissions. As electric vehicles become more widely adopted, demand for reliable, convenient charging infrastructure continues to grow. 

Many cities across the globe are trying to incorporate fast charging facilities. On the other hand, there are concepts like charging while driving. Roads that can charge electric cars or buses while you drive aren't a new concept, but implementing such an infrastructure poses a lot of challenges. Its implementation depends on close collaboration between several parties in terms of highway infrastructures, the electricity grid, and the automotive industry. From a technical perspective, it requires reimagining the size of charging devices, how they are to be financed and built into the road, and the specific way the working of power transfer devices. Moreover, the wireless charging systems in the highway must charge a wide range of vehicles with very different charging needs.

The Indiana Department of Transportation and Purdue University has announced plans to develop a contactless wireless-charging concrete pavement highway segment. The project will utilize innovative magnetizable concrete – developed by German startup Magment GmbH. According to Magment, the magnetizable concrete delivers wireless transmission efficiency up to 95 percent. 

"Indiana is known as the Crossroads of America and we're committed to fortifying our position as a transportation leader by innovating to support the emerging vehicle technology," Governor Eric J. Holcomb said. "This partnership to develop wireless charging technology for highways sends a strong signal that Indiana is on the leading edge of delivering the infrastructure needed to support the adoption of electric vehicles."

Nadia Gkritza, Professor of Civil Engineering and Agricultural and Biological Engineering and ASPIRE Campus Director at Purdue University says, "Through this research, we envision opportunities to reduce emissions and near-road exposures to pollutants, coupled with other transportation innovations in shared mobility and automation that will shape data-driven policies encouraging advances."


About Magnetizable Concrete

The new material, called magnetizable concrete, is a composite material with a very high permeability of up to 70, and even more. The material is created by ferrite waste, which can be purchased both from scrap centers and specialized factories and from relative recycling. Grinding is carried out by respecting some technical specifications, and everything is mixed with cement. It does not require any pressing or high-temperature techniques. After mixing the magnetic particles with dry cement, water is added, as is done with concrete.

To allow the wireless charging of electric vehicle batteries, a coil on the transmission side is needed to reflect the magnetic field in the right direction. However, permeability is the major problem. An interesting application of magnetizable concrete is the creation of inductive components for which the cement is poured into housing in which a coil has been previously inserted. This approach allows for easy reproducibility. Moreover, various products can be obtained, such as circular coils, and double D coils from magnetizable concrete, according to Magment.

Production of different coils. Image Courtesy of Magment.


One of the earlier research projects undertaken by the researchers of Chalmers University of Technology have also explored the idea of combining conductive materials with concrete to create concrete batteries. However, in this research, the focus is on increasing permeability of the concrete material. Higher the permeability, higher will be the magnetic flux density and energy density between the vehicle’s secondary coil and the primary coil on the road.


Developing the Highway Infrastructure

The research project will be carried out in three phases. The first and second phases of the project involve pavement testing, analysis, and optimization research conducted by the Joint Transportation Research Program (JTRP) at Purdue's West Lafayette campus. In the third phase, INDOT will test the innovative concrete's capacity to charge heavy trucks operation at high power (200 kilowatts and above). Upon successful completion of all three phases, INDOT will use the new technology to electrify a yet to be determined segment of the interstate highway within Indiana.

"This project is a real step forward towards the future of dynamic wireless charging," said Mauricio Esguerra, CEO of Magment, "that will undoubtedly set the standard for affordable, sustainable, and efficient transportation electrification."

The phases of the project are expected to begin later this summer.


About the Researchers

The project involves the collaboration of universities, government laboratories, businesses, and other stakeholders developing charging technologies for the electrification of transportation vehicles of all classes.