“Wireless charging will change the way we think about mobility”

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Wireless charging is now ready to hit the market. That’s the message sent to the world by Electreon, an Israeli provider of wireless charging technology, following the completion of a trial including, among other things, an Iveco bus. Long dismissed as inefficient, wireless charging now seems to have reached a stage of commercial viability. What does that mean? More cables, smaller batteries, greener fleets, say senior executives from Iveco and Electreon, in an exclusive conversation with Fleet Europe.

It’s not often a high-level executive in the transportation industry who quotes Schopenhauer to you, but that’s exactly what Alessandro Bernardini did: “Truth goes through three stages. First, people think it’s ridiculous. Then they violently oppose it. And finally, they accept it as a matter of course,” says the Director of Electrification Technologies of the Iveco Group. “I use that quote a lot within our organization.”

It’s a statement that resonates well across the whole electrification paradigm. When it comes to electric vehicles, governments, businesses and the public have now clearly reached the third stage. But when it comes to wireless charging, most of us are still stuck at step one.

Well no everything from U.S. Iveco, a major truck manufacturer, has teamed up with Electreon, an Israeli wireless charging specialist. It’s a charging method that does away with cables – an obvious benefit – but has been criticized in the past for being an inefficient means of power transfer.

Alessandro, why did Iveco decide to explore wireless charging?

“A few years ago, we carried out tests on wireless charging as part of an EU-funded research project. It was a massive failure: a lot of power was used just to demonstrate the principle, but there was no real possibility of applying it practically. We have therefore studied other charging solutions for electric utility vehicles. But all of them have their own drawbacks. It seemed like there was no real technological alternative to charging an EV through a standard plugin.

“But then we came across this wireless charging solution, and we studied it for a few months. We wanted to know if it was practical, easily applicable and truly scalable. It was a challenge for us. Personally, I was of the opinion that wireless charging just didn’t work. But faced with this new proof, we decided to positively commit to the idea – by testing it with a city bus, manufactured by us.

What were the challenges in testing this new type of wireless charging?

“We decided to test this on an existing vehicle already in service, as we wanted to go fast. The downside is that you are dealing with a “frozen architecture”, so it was not easy to integrate the new technology needed for this project. »

What lessons did this teach you for future vehicle designs?

“We now have to address the question of how to increase wireless charging. Do we make it optional, something that can be built into the vehicle? Or do we make it a standard, part of the overall vehicle itself?”

“However, at the vehicle level, it’s not really a challenge. Most of our bus and truck models have different body types anyway. Of course, the real question is much broader than that. Wireless charging will need to be integrated into the overall ecosystem.

So, are we now in the chicken and egg phase of this technology, where we’ve accepted it to work, but no one is using it, simply because it’s not offered?

“You are on the right track, but I must say that even though the technology seems to work, we are still in the test and measurement phase. But there’s a chicken-and-egg quality to it, as there is to any new technology. And part of the problem is asking ourselves if we will be the only ones doing it. Every business wants to make a profit. But to do that, you need mature, standardized, and scalable solutions. But as for the technology itself: it’s ready.

Oren, what do you think when you hear this quest for standardization?

Oren Ezer (Co-founder and CEO of Electreon): “I agree with what Alessandro said, but I would like to add that I believe in evolution rather than revolution. Industry revolutions are good if you’re a billionaire and maybe a bit stupid (laughs). In order to solve the chicken and egg problem, at ElectReon we try to find niches where we can add benefits from day one – buses on fixed routes are a good example. You can start by electrifying the terminal, then start wirelessly charging a bus, then 10, then 20. And then you can start installing the technology in the roads themselves, which will allow you to reduce the size of the battery .

“Another example are taxis, where you could electrify the area where they queue, allowing them to charge while they wait. Or take last mile deliveries, where vans drive around certain polygons. zone, you allow your drivers to recharge easily.It is among these first adapters that we must find our customers.

BA: “I agree, but if I may comment on why we decided to go ahead with wireless charging. The use of closed and short routes – say three km – has allowed to test the principle and then scale up. For us, it wouldn’t have worked in an unlimited traffic configuration.”

So we’re never going to see a situation where every route has recharge capabilities?

OE: “I think it will, but maybe only in 50 years. Ultimately, this is how we want vehicles to be charged, because it eliminates the need for large batteries. Why? Because we have limited resources. Because we don’t want to end up with billions of big batteries that we can’t recycle. It’s not green. Wireless charging can do that: it connects us to the network, but wirelessly. »

Why should fleet managers be excited about wireless charging?

BA: “As I mentioned earlier, scalability and standardization are crucial to the success of this technology, as in the long run they will minimize the investment required. But what I think is the key to the success of wireless charging is that it decouples the vehicle from the battery. As we know, the battery remains a big problem: cost, weight, recyclability.

Electric vehicles are supposed to be more sustainable. But much of the electricity that powers them is still generated from non-renewable energy. Can wireless charging make a difference for the better?

BA: “The key point here is that wireless charging makes it possible to space out charging times better. It becomes easier to top up on the go, not just at the depot. It is a perfect catalyst for locally produced renewable energy.

OE: “If you have a large fleet going electric, you have to understand that charging is totally different from refueling. You need a lot of charging infrastructure and a very good network connection. If you plan to charge 100 vans in one night, you will need 50 KW multiplied by 100, at the rate of 4 hours per charge. It’s difficult. Wireless charging may not be the solution to all your problems, but it may be one of the many solutions you need to deal with the transition.

We recently did a survey of Global Fleet managers, and a large majority didn’t have a private driveway, so they can’t charge at home. Wireless charging on the go is a perfect solution. But, a technical question. Suppose you are a taxi driver waiting in front of a wireless charging station. How long before your taxi is fully loaded?

OE: “It depends on the amount of energy. If you charge at 20 KWh and your battery is 40 KW, it would take two hours to fully charge it.

AB: “But why would you need to fully charge it? You only need to charge it as needed between charging times.

OE: “Indeed. It’s a good example of how wireless charging will change the way we think about mobility. »

Text: Alison Pittaway

Picture: Iveco/Electreon

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