A State’s Plan for the Nation’s First Section of Wireless Charging Road


Michigan hopes to test out a short segment of roadway that will allow electric cars to recharge as they drive, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.

Michigan will seek to construct an electrified stretch of road that would allow motorists to charge their electric vehicles wirelessly while they drive, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said this week.

The 1-mile stretch, slated for a state-operated roadway in one of three counties on Michigan’s western shore, will be the first electrified road in the country, Whitmer said in a statement.

"This project reinforces my commitment to accelerating the deployment of electric vehicle infrastructure in Michigan and will create new opportunities for businesses and high-tech jobs amidst the transition to electric vehicles,” she said. 

The Michigan Department of Transportation will release a request for proposals on Tuesday, seeking an organization “to design, fund, evaluate, iterate, test and implement” the wireless charging road, known as the Inductive Vehicle Charging Pilot. The project will be a collaboration between the contractor and a handful of state agencies, including the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

Electrified roads, sometimes referred to as “e-roads,” are a relatively new technology that allow vehicles to charge as they travel, giving drivers longer trip ranges. 

The roads use three types of technology: overhead conductive charging, which transfers power via a connection to overhead lines (most common for buses and trains); conductive power transfer from the road itself, typically via rails; and inductive power transfer from the road, which sends power between a set of coils in the roadway and a set in the car. 

With the inductive option, power is typically converted into a high-frequency electric current, which creates a magnetic field that’s picked up by the vehicle’s coils to produce voltage, according to a blog post from Volvo.

Michigan’s road would be inductive, meaning cars would not need to connect via wires to charge when driving on it. Companies have tested the technology in other countries, including Sweden, where a long-haul electric truck was charged successfully in a variety of weather conditions in January.

Whitmer said the addition of the road in Michigan would help the state accelerate its “transition to all-electric fleets” while also reducing range anxiety—fear that an electric car won’t make it to a charging station before the battery dies—for everyday drivers.

"We're in the midst of the most significant shift in the automotive industry since the Model T rolled off the assembly line more than a century ago,” Trevor Pawl, chief mobility officer with the state’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, said in a statement. "This electrified roadway has the potential to accelerate autonomous vehicles at scale and turn our streets into safe, sustainable, accessible and shared transportation platforms." 

The announcement was one of a handful of transportation initiatives unveiled by Whitmer’s administration this month. Others included a robot delivery pilot program in Detroit, a series of electric charging stations along a tourism-heavy corridor near Lake Michigan and a partnership with Ontario, Canada to deploy “smarter and greener” technologies across the border. 

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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