MOBILITY

Why electric roads are the way to go for the future of charging infrastructure

Swedish e-Mobility start-up Elonroad’s CEO Karin Ebbinghaus shares that what we might consider as wishful thinking when it comes to the next generation’s mobility is soon to become a reality.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
August 31, 2021

”Think of it as a large-scale version of the race track you played with as a kid.” That’s how Elonroad’s CEO Karin Ebbinghaus describes their technology.

— Only far more advanced! she adds.

Karin Ebbinghaus

While electric vehicles are constantly gaining market shares and more than half of the new European cars will be electric already in 2028, electric roads can — and most likely will — also play an important role in the transition. For Karin Ebbinghaus, it’s a win-win.

— Building the future of charging infrastructure means that we will be changing the way we charge all electric vehicles, on the road driving or when you are parked. Our electric roads extend the driving range of electric vehicles as well as reducing the need for large and heavy batteries, she tells.

In addition to the children’s race track, tell us more about your technology.

— Our technology allows electric vehicles of all kinds to charge while they drive. We do this by putting a conductive rail on the road that transfers energy via a pick-up under the vehicle. Sliding contacts connect to the rails, enabling conductive transmission of power with very high efficiency. 

And it even manages our Scandinavian climate. Every kind of climate and weather? 

Being born in the Scandinavian climate, we truly put our rails and systems to the test. Cold weather was actually how the idea of Elonroad was conceived in the first place, when our founder and innovator Dan drove home in the snow with the slush piling up in the middle of the road, making it look like a rail. So, yes, it works in our hard climate here in the north! Ebbinghaus states, adding,

— For example, the road senses when it snows and activates its heating elements, melting the snow. Gravel can be removed by the pick-ups under the passing vehicles or by purposefully designed shovels attached to vehicles. The technology’s ability to read road conditions comes with another cool benefit — it can warn drivers about hazards on the road ahead, making it safer to drive.

We see several different initiatives with electric road systems now. How are you different?

— There are competing solutions, but we believe we have some crucial advantages. We are safer, cheaper, and more efficient. Also, our solution works for all vehicles while some only target part of the vehicles out there.

— Firstly, safer because the road is only being activated one meter at a time when driving over the rail. Secondly, our roads are cheaper per kilometer. And thirdly, more efficient because of very little efficiency loss when transmitting the power.

— Our rail is either installed on top of the asphalt or embedded in the road in an aluminum cover. It’s very easy to retrofit any existing road and upgrade it with our connected smart charging rail. A thesis project at Lund University found that for a Stockholm inner-city bus line, the Transport Administration could save millions by electrifying using electric roads instead of stationary charging. Using our electric road, the buses simply charge as they drive along their route. Since the buses run on fixed routes, only a limited amount of electric road is needed to power them, making the initial investments attractive.

”If we look further ahead, self-driving vehicles will likely handle this type of transportation and with electric roads there would be no need for these vehicles to ever stop”

Speaking of the cost, it’s easy to imagine that adding your technology to a road can be quite expensive. Will authorities and governments invest in it? Or will we see private companies building electric roads?

— The authorities could be the investor, but the money could also come from infrastructure funds. Generally, authorities looking to give electrification an extra boost could invest themselves or lease from for instance energy companies looking to expand their businesses, says Ebbinghaus. She continues:

— We could absolutely see private companies building electric roads as well. Think about a company shuttling goods non-stop between a harbor and a plant. Electric roads are a superb option for reducing downtime. If we look further ahead, self-driving vehicles will likely handle this type of transportation and with electric roads, there would be no need for these vehicles to ever stop. 

You plan for commercialization already next year. What will you do then?

— Interest is catching on like a house on fire! We have just hired a COO to prepare for a scale-up both in terms of production and delivery to customers. Currently, we are negotiating several projects and applications all over the world. The interest we receive shows a massive demand for novel solutions when it comes to charging infrastructure and solutions to move away from fossil fuels.

From your perspective, is the future of electric mobility charging stations? Or electric road systems? Or a mix?

— Our vision is to electrify the entire transport sector and make fossil fuel a thing of the past. In the near future, you will see a mix and our solution can deliver on both demands — charge while driving or charge when you are parked. We believe that in the future, electric roads will be widely deployed and used by self-driving vehicles that never need to stop. Looking into the immediate future, the demand for charging infrastructure will increase drastically. We believe the mix of different emerging solutions will be required to meet the surging demand and together enable a CO2-free transport sector. 

What else do you have coming?

— Besides pilots underway with large logistics companies for heavier transports, we are also piloting solutions for regular cars. And to be honest, just trying to keep up with the massive demand we are seeing right now from all over the world, from Asia to South America, is quite humbling and gives us the energy to work even harder. We are very excited about the future of electric transportation and how we can help society combat CO2 emissions through our innovation. There is a huge demand for solutions that can help us fight climate change and we are convinced that we can be a piece in that puzzle, Ebbinghaus concludes.

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