France will test a first motorway of the future

Imagine a future where battery life is no longer an obstacle for electric vehicles. This vision could soon become a reality thanks to technological advances such as e-highways, which are currently being tested in several countries, including Sweden. But also in France with a first test.

The days when long journeys were a drag on electric vehicles might be a thing of the past. The concept of e-motorways is being tested in several countries. In April 2022, Sweden led the way by converting a 20 kilometer stretch of the E20 highway into a constantly electrified road, a world first. The initial project focuses on charging trucks en route, before considering the same technology for passenger cars.

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At the same time, France undertook charging tests for electric cars and trucks on the A10 motorway near Paris in July 2022. The project is based on two main technologies: on the one hand, magnetic coils integrated into the bitumen (inductive system) allow the batteries to be recharged by induction, like smartphones, on the other hand, a rail flush with the bitumen (conductive system) gives equipped vehicles the possibility of connecting directly to the ground.

Reducing the size of electric vehicle batteries

These “electric roads” could potentially reduce the range required for normal car use by 62 to 71%thus decreasing the size of their batteries, according to a study by the University of Gothenburg (Sweden). This would be a significant step forward, not only in terms of comfort for users, but also respect for the environment, since reducing the size of the batteries means less consumption of rare metals.

According to this same study, savings on batteries would be enough to finance these electric roads. Louis du Pasquier, in charge of the project at Vinci, specifies that the objective of these high-speed tests on the A10 is to ” raise the last remaining questions, before deploying these technologies on a large scale, over hundreds or thousands of kilometers “.

Implementation and deployment of the technology in France

The first closed road tests will take place in September 2023 in Rouen on a Cerema track, a public institution under the supervision of the Ministry of Ecological Transition. Then these dynamic charging systems will be installed on four kilometers of the right lane of the A10 in the Paris-Orléans direction, upstream of the Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines tollbooth. The chargers will obviously only activate with compatible vehicles. The experiment on the A10 will take place over a period of three years, with funding of 26 million euros. This project is supported by the France 2030 public plan, through the Public Investment Bank (BPI).

The Mont-Blanc motorway (Haute-Savoie) is also preparing to test a “scrubber” solution, initially developed by Alstom for trams. Vehicles equipped with a retractable device will be able to collect electricity from a supply track inserted into the wearing course of the roadway.

Charging systems in competition

As far as the charging mode of this type of highway is concerned, three systems are currently in the running: catenary systems, inductive systems and conductive systems.

  • Catenary systems, already used for electric trains and trams, work thanks to aerial cables (catenaries) suspended above the road, to which vehicles can connect to receive electricity while driving. However, their installation requires expensive aerial structures and can affect the aesthetics of the landscape.
  • Inductive systems use inductive charging technology, which allows electrical energy to be transmitted wirelessly between two coils, one embedded in the road surface and the other embedded in the vehicle. This system has the advantage of being contactless and having a lower visual impact, but can be expensive to set up and presents challenges in terms of energy efficiency and compatibility between vehicles.
  • Conductive systems use conductive rails embedded in the roadway to transmit electricity. Although they require significant infrastructure works, these systems could offer a more discreet solution than catenaries.

Other complementary solutions

Electrified highways represent an innovative solution for the autonomy of electric cars and trucks. However, other complementary solutions are emerging, such as fast charging stations and the battery exchange system.

A company has developed an extremely promising induction charging system for electric vehicles. This system delivers exceptional power, reaching up to 500 kW, without requiring the use of cables. This technology offers the possibility of recharging the battery of an electric vehicle wirelessly, in just a few minutes.

Xcharge charging station, for illustration

In parallel, the battery exchange system, or ” swap in English, offers an effective solution to reduce the charging time. It allows you to replace the discharged battery of a vehicle with a full battery in just a few minutes. These complementary technologies are all solutions to increase the range of electric vehicles and facilitate their widespread adoption.

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