The inductive power transfer system was developed by the Utah State University Energy Dynamics Laboratory. It uses a flat disk-shaped battery that charges wirelessly through the electric currents put out by the disk pictured on the bottom. The two disks generate power when in proximity of each other. For the University of Utah project, the top battery will be attached to the bottom of a bus. When the bus parks above the bottom disk which will be built into the road it quickly charges the bus battery, powering it for longer distances. (Photo courtesy of Energy Dynamics Laboratory)
In its first public demonstrations, the Park City-based company Wave Inc. and Utah State University put years of research on display at a conference this week addressing electric roads and vehicles. Using a process called inductive power transfer, battery powered vehicles could continuously run using wireless charging pads built directly into the road.
"It's a very powerful system that can charge a battery wirelessly," said Wave CEO, Wesley Smith, "and it's completely safe, works in every type of weather condition and it cuts back costs."
And the technology isn't too far off to reach Park City, which hopes to add the system to its Main Street Trolley.
Despite similar technologies that have been in use for years in other parts of the world, this would be the first time an electric road/vehicle project would be developed and implemented in the United States. The University of Utah campus has plans in place to construct the wireless battery-powered bus system to help transport student around campus by the end of the year.
"On certain routes, we knew we'd be as cheap if not cheaper than gasoline," Smith said.
Beyond costs, which he believes would be roughly a fifth of the cost to operate in comparison the combustion engines, Smith said electric buses are much, much quieter.
"They're spooky quiet. If you see one driving along, the first thing you're going to think is that someone accidently released the barking brake and the bus is coasting without a driver," he said.
Wave, an off-shoot company from USU, worked with the university's Energy Dynamics Laboratory to develop a mode of transportation that uses battery technology but without the extra weight of carrying the battery around. Wave received a $2.7M federal grant to help develop the technology with the Energy Dynamics Laboratory as well as the implement of the project.
Most of today's buses use combustion engines and diesel fuel, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars to operate in a single year. Hunter Wu, a research scientist for the Energy Dynamics Laboratory, said he hopes to see that technology replaced with inductive power transfer.
"The long-term idea is to match what we do today," Wu said. "There are still gaps in technology and barriers we have to jump, but we're very optimistic that in the near future we'll be able to get there."
Before the project ever debuted to the public, before the project was funded, Park City looked into how it could implement the technology. The City Council loved the idea, Smith said. The original idea was to power the Main Street trolley using the battery system and replace the current diesel-powered trolley.
"Now that we have this funding if we still do the Main Street Trolley, we can do it for under half of what we originally projected," Smith said.
When plans were first brought forward, Park City Mayor Dana Williams said it was an idea that instantly had support. While the project will reach Salt Lake City first, interest in bringing the buses to Park City remains high.
"We were behind it right from the very beginning, and committed to put money into it if it came to fruition," Williams said. "That's still true."
© 2012 Utah State University Research Foundation