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Volvo is working on cordless charging for electric cars

Thu, 31 Oct 2013

Imagine not having to actually exit and plug in your electric car (assuming you have an electric car to plug in), and instead just parking it over a special parking spot. That's the promise of a new technology that Volvo is working on, and if taken to the mass market once made commercially viable, it means electric cars will be able to recharge just by sitting over a charger built into the parking spot's surface. That would certainly eliminate the need for those bulky upright chargers that are spreading around the country. And they're not spreading all that quickly we might add, with the costs of buying and installing chargers at publicly accessible parking spaces proving a tough sell for infrastructure owners.

Volvo has been working on a technology that might make it easier for parking spot owners to attract electric cars, and for electric car owners to recharge their cars' batteries. The heart of this emerging technology is inductive charging, which uses an electromagnetic field instead of a cord to transfer energy between the charger and the car's battery receptacle. This involves a second induction coil which would pick up power from the electromagnetic field emitted by the charger, and convert it back into electrical energy which charges the battery. Believe it or not, the basic technology behind this is already present in some common household appliances, even things like electrical toothbrushes, but it just hasn't been applied to transferring power to an electric car's battery.

Volvo Car Group, along with partners Bombardier, Inverto, and Van Hool, have been studying this technology at a research cluster in Flanders, with Volvo contributing a Volvo C30 Electric, a version not available in the U.S. market we should point out.

“Inductive charging has great potential. Cordless technology is a comfortable and effective way to conveniently transfer energy. The study also indicates that it is safe. There is not yet any common standard for inductive charging. We will continue our research and evaluate the feasibility of the technology in our hybrid and electric car projects” said Lennart Stegland, vice president of electric propulsion systems at Volvo Car Group.

Ultimately, the promise of this technology are electric car chargers that are built into the ground, or lie flat on the ground just inches from a car's bottom. They wouldn't take up extra space, and would be almost as easy to install as the upright chargers we currently see.

“The tests demonstrated that our Volvo C30 Electric can be fully charged without a power cable in about two and a half hours. In parallel with this, we have also conducted research into slow and regular charging together with Inverto, which was also a partner in the project,” said Stegland.

So far Volvo has been able to reduce the technology to a prototype charger and a prototype vehicle configured to convert an electromagnetic field into electricity that it can store in its battery. It is not clear yet when or where we'll see the first applications of this technology, as electric cars built by various manufacturers have yet to adopt a common cord charger standard.

By Jay Ramey