The technology behind charging electric trucks on road

Electric trucks

A project conducted by Swinburne University in Melbourne, in collaboration with a number of energy and infrastructure groups, has received the green light for government funding to the tune of $3 million.

The research, led by New Energy Technology Research Group Professor Mehdi Seyedmahmoudian, will see the team of experts explore the viability of wireless charging for electric trucks in Australia.

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It is technology that could do away with the need for electric trucks to be stuck at charging stations, wasting time and money, by implementing wireless charging into the nation’s roads.

How it will work and where it will be used is still up for debate – there are obvious and massive costs involved in tearing up the nation’s key freight routes to install it.

But successful trials in Sweden and the USA have experts optimistic about what it could look like in an Australian transport landscape.

Firstly though…

How does it work??

For road charging to work, there needs to be two key things – charging plates and systems in the road, and a ‘receiver’ inside the truck that can take in the electricity from the ground wirelessly.

When the truck drives along the road, it can take in electricity while it drives through the bottom, charging the battery as it goes.

Rainer Knobloch, co-founder of NewVolt – a company working to create charging hubs across the nation – says that are still significant challenges that will be faced before any kind of wireless road charging is implemented in Australia, even with funding.

“Just like with anything, here, you have an infrastructure cost, and then you have the truck costs,” he explains.

“The challenge is that you are required to put plates and systems into the road. When a truck is at a standstill, there’s magnetic induction which is causing the charge there between the two. That’s quite high performance from an induction perspective.

“Putting it on a road, comes with a few challenges on the infrastructure side, because Australia’s roads, while in many instances are great, in others they’re not. And so you’ve got a big infrastructure cost in rolling this out on the road.”

Putting batteries and the wireless charging technology into these trucks, or manufacturing trucks with them already inside, provides challenges of its own.

Manufacturers will either have to invest in the technology themselves, or companies will have to pop up that can install them.

“On the truck side, you’ve got all of these trucks that we’ve seen in other markets, they’re all coming to the country in the next 12 months, which is really, really exciting,” Knobloch says.

“The biggest challenge we’ve got particularly on those long haul routes is still that you’re taking a bit of a payload penalty with the weight of that battery.

“We acknowledge this, it’s part of the journey as part of thinking in delivering the lowest cost of goods from A to B in a net zero world.

“You can’t replace the battery, and you’re then also adding weight to this wireless induction technology that needs to sit inside the truck.

“That would be a concern to operators in terms of running the science on the on those payload penalty on those longer routes. That would be a big decision to make.”

The here and now

As the technology for wireless road charging develops, and the need for it grows, experts are confident we will see a greater investment in it.

However, there are issues that the Swinburne project can tackle directly, one of those being how fast trucks can actually be charged on the road.

While charging times have improved, estimates still vary wildly of how long a full charge can take depending on what kind of charger is used.

At a fast charge, Transport for NSW estimates it can take as little as an hour for a full charge, or could take as long as 16 hours at the slowest.

Knobloch says that while static chargers can go up to 150 kilowatts, that number diminishes significantly in road charging technology.

“Right now one of the biggest challenges we have is the power rating of charging,” he says.

“So if you look back at base charging, you can get 50 kilowatt charges, you can get up to 150. But all of a sudden, you start to hit your limits of what that actual site or premises can output as a whole.

“On the flip side, if you look at facilities like what NewVolt is looking towards building, you have very fast charging we’ll have about eight to 10 days of 400 kilowatt charges.

“So now you’re charging trucks in about an hour under if they’re coming in at zero, and then eventually moving up to megawatt charging, which is 1000 or over, so one megawatt. And there you’re charging trucks in 15 minutes or less.

“But the problem is, is that that is costly infrastructure. Not everyone was going to be able to afford that. We can’t cover the planet in truck charging hubs.”

With the size of Australia, so much of road freight is moved along the same highways consistently.

Choosing where road charging technology would go, funding and logistics aside, is as big a challenge as anything else.

“The long term routes where you have to build into roads, you are running into giant infrastructure costs,” Knobloch says.

“You’re ripping up roads to put this in. You then you then need to pull back and go, what is the overall cost benefit for this?

“So, if we think about the Hume, because we don’t have unlimited money in this country, where’s it best to deploy the taxpayer dollar? Is it in ripping up all of that road to run a wireless charging strip? Maybe.

“It could be a balance of that in certain sections where it makes sense. And then offsetting the infrastructure cost to electrify certain sites along the Hume with charging hubs on the other side.”

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