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Cutting the Cord: NREL Demonstrates Wirelessly Charged Electric Vehicle

July 10, 2018

NREL recently launched a one-year onsite demonstration of an all-electric Zenith Motors van, modified to enable wireless charging. NREL operates the innovative vehicle in its employee shuttle fleet.

Photo of wirelessly charged electric vehicle parked in front of building.

"The vehicle didn't come with wireless charging," said Kevin Walkowicz, manager of NREL's transportation systems engineering group. "Under NREL's direction, the shuttle was modified to incorporate Momentum Dynamics' wireless-charging system—an addition that is enhancing our vehicle electrification and grid integration research."

In addition to determining whether the technology is a viable option for eventual electrification of NREL's campus transportation system, the demonstration is bolstering NREL's pioneering exploration of the transformative nature of wireless charging.

Leading the Charge

Before employing the vehicle in its fleet, NREL's demonstration required modifications to both the shuttle itself and the wireless-charging system to make them compatible; until now, no shuttle of the Zenith's size was outfitted with such a system.

"The vehicle required some modifications to accommodate the Momentum Dynamics system," Walkowicz added. "We also worked with Momentum Dynamics to modify and adapt their charging system to work with the vehicle."

The demonstration is designed to give researchers a better understanding of how to intelligently manage overall electricity loads in an electrified transportation future via the examination of various charge management strategies and the further development and optimization of the high-power wireless charging system and associated grid-integration controls.

"Wireless charging could potentially simplify the entire charging process for drivers," Walkowicz said. "With in-road wireless charging, for example, you could potentially charge a vehicle en route at every stop sign—charging much more frequently than you would if you had to physically park a vehicle and plug it in to charge. Wireless charging provides better, more flexible, and more convenient charging opportunities to intelligently manage vehicle loads."

This technology could have significant ramifications on electric vehicle battery-size requirements as well," Walkowicz added. "We might be able to show that you can significantly reduce your battery size with this technology—without reducing the vehicle's electric range."

NREL: A Living Laboratory

Researchers aren't the only ones who stand to gain from this demonstration—NREL's site operations group has an equal stake in the matter.

"We have been working with our internal and external partners for years looking at electrifying NREL's transportation system while pursuing opportunities to leverage NREL's sustainable transportation research," said NREL Intelligent Campus Project Leader Lissa Myers. "Assessing wireless-charging capabilities on campus allows us to gauge the reliability and performance of this new technology before making a long-term financial commitment."

"The idea is to utilize the campus as a research instrument—extending and leveraging research activities in a real-world setting," Myers added. "In addition to transportation demonstrations, we are applying other areas of NREL-directed research in buildings with advanced sensors, controls, and energy systems integration to maximize energy efficiency in unique and innovative ways."

Electrifying the nation's transportation system plays a crucial role in boosting transportation energy efficiency, improving air quality, and bolstering the country's energy security—particularly when coupled with electricity produced by renewables.

Learn more about NREL's sustainable transportation research.