Indiana Tests Technology to Charge EVs While They Move

Wireless charging technology could allow carmakers to produce more affordable EVs that would require less power.

Purdue University campus in the fall, West Lafayette, Indiana
Purdue University's West Lafayette campus will be the first testing area of the project.

akrassel / Getty Images

Can you imagine driving an electric car that charges itself while in motion? Researchers with the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) and Purdue University are testing a new type of concrete that may do just that.

The concrete material has been developed by a German startup called Magment. It is basically a mix of cement and recycled magnetic particles called ferrite, which Magment sources from e-waste recyclers.

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the tests are part of ASPIRE, a program to design “smart powered roads” and other technologies to charge battery-electric vehicles.

“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,” said Indiana Governor Eric J. Holcomb in a statement announcing the tests, which are due to begin this summer.

The project will start with “pavement testing, analysis, and optimization research” that will be conducted atThis 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,. Researchers will then test the magnetized concrete in a quarter-mile-long stretch to see if it can successfully charge heavy trucks at a rate of 200 kilowatts and above—for comparison, the fastest EV chargers currently available have an output of between 50 kilowatts to 350 kilowatts.

“Upon successful completion of testing of all three phases, INDOT will use the new technology to electrify a yet to be determined segment of interstate highway within Indiana,” the statement said.

According to Magment, the material could potentially be used to build “cutting edge wireless inductive charging infrastructure” to charge cars and trucks both while they are moving and when they are stationary. It could also be used to charge micro-mobility and industrial vehicles, such as forklifts, and even drone fleets, hyperloops, and flying cars, the company says.

Magment boasts that its “patented magnetizable concrete” has a “record-breaking wireless transmission efficiency” of up to 95% and that it performs well in a variety of weather conditions.

Although some media outlets have reported that installing this technology in large parts of the U.S. road network would be prohibitively expensive, researchers say that won’t be the case because converting only segments of the road would be enough to power vehicles as they drive through.

Whether Magmet’s charging concrete will become mainstream is anybody’s guess. Scientists have been trying to develop technology to charge road vehicles on the fly since at least the 1980s.

Research labs at Stanford University, Cornell University, and Utah State University have projects to design wireless charging for EVs, while an Israeli company called ​​ElecReon has been testing inductive technology to charge EVs in Sweden over the past couple of years. In 2017, French carmaker Renault successfully tested an EV prototype that was able to charge at up to 20 kilowatts while driving over a charging strip at 60mph.

The reason why many researchers are turning their focus on wireless charging technology is that it could revolutionize EVs. 

For starters, many EVs are powered by large batteries that allow them to go on for hundreds of miles without a recharge. But if these “smart powered roads” were to become mainstream, EVs would no longer need to feature large batteries, which are the most expensive and the heaviest part of an electric car. Instead, they could carry smaller batteries, which would significantly reduce manufacturing costs, making EVs more affordable, and much lighter, which would mean that they would need less energy. 

According to ASPIRE, if electric cars become mainstream in the U.S., they would “roughly double the annual energy demand on the electric grid,” so making lighter EVs that require less power will ensure that there is enough electricity to go by.