An illustration shows a truck driving over a charger that utilizes the Magment material.

Power up: Indiana team’s electrified concrete could charge vehicles as they drive

The uptick in interest over electric vehicles also is fueling a push for better and more accessible EV charging solutions. Indiana roadways soon could be the first in the country to sport a next-generation technology: wireless, contactless, in-ground equipment that electrifies a roadway and charges EVs as they drive over it.

The Indiana Department of Transportation is partnering with Purdue University, which is developing the technology. They’re incorporating a magnetic concrete component from German company Magment. The first part of the project involves determining if the innovation would work in Indiana, and the final piece would be installing it on a real-world roadway.

Numerous studies are examining wireless roadway charging, and pilot projects are in progress — especially in Europe. But installation faces challenges.

“We’re not aware of this type of technology being deployed on a public roadway. Anytime you have those types of unknowns, that’s inherently a challenge,” said Scott Manning, deputy chief of staff at INDOT.

The project is part of the National Science Foundation-funded Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification (ASPIRE) research center, which aims to take a holistic approach to eliminate EV range and charging barriers to promote vehicle electrification.

The innovation

The first of three phases for this pilot project — research, lab testing, and real-world implementation — began this month. 

Purdue is designing the system by leveraging Magment’s magnetic concrete material. Electrical engineers are constructing an in-lab hardware setup for a high-powered receiver and the associated electrification technology. Civil engineers are working in a lab on the pavement portion and ensuring it would meet performance specifications.

Electrical conductors composed of copper coils will be embedded in the magnetic concrete to harness the electricity and create a magnetic field. An EV would need to be equipped with a receiver on its underside to accept the transmitted energy and convert it to a form that the battery can use.

INDOT is specifically interested in installing this innovation to give heavy-duty vehicles a charging boost and support fleets with their transition to electric vehicles.

“People have done this before for lower-powered vehicles … but typically not at the sizes and speeds we have on interstate highways,” said Steve Pekarek, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue.

The researchers are working to create a magnetic field strong enough to charge large trucks. So far they have found that strength not to be detrimental to surrounding infrastructure and wildlife.

Prototype testing will determine if the concrete and embedded technologies can withstand highway conditions in Indiana’s climate and with a heavy vehicular load.

“We’re interested in finding out how this technology will perform in all types of weather. Indiana has four seasons — hot, humid summers and cold winters with lots of freezing and thawing,” Manning said. “Anytime we deploy a new technology or material on the highway system, that right off the bat is one of the challenges or unknowns that we’re interested in learning about — how something will perform.”

What’s next

The team anticipates that its final design will be ready this fall, and they can begin building the prototype if all the ordered components arrive on schedule, Pekarek said.

“We want to make sure that, as we transition from paper to pavement, we account for all subtleties that will occur in practice,” Pekarek said. “We developed some designs we believe are feasible, and we’re still in the process of considering if they’re financially feasible.” 

They anticipate finishing this research phase by late next year. Next, they will install a quarter-mile test track on an actual Indiana roadway, aiming to do so sometime in 2023. 

If the innovation is deemed viable, permanent installation on Indiana’s highways could occur in three to four years. The locations have not been chosen yet, but they would likely be interstate highways with heavy trucking traffic.

Pekarek said there are many possibilities to advance this technology further. For example, future research could find ways to tap into the system’s electricity to thaw icy roadways.

The partners also have to figure out a lot of long-term details, including system maintenance and who oversees it, and how to pay for the consumed electricity. 

“We at INDOT would have to further determine the best business model under which to deploy this type of technology on a larger scale,” Manning said. “There are a lot of options right now and we’ll see what’s viable.”