Start-up to fit Gen 2 electric road on Paris’ A10 highway, a world’s first
Heavy & costly car batteries, long charging times and range anxiety are just some problems dogging the electric vehicle industry. With more and more electric cars being driven on our roads throughout Europe, the pressure is on for the continent to tackle some of these pressing issues. Swedish clean-tech start-up, Elonroad and VINCI group, Europe’s largest construction company and highway operator, believe they are up for the challenge. The two are set to join forces to create electric roads, part of generation 2 electric mobility, on the A10 highway outside Paris.
The highway represents a “paradigm shift” says Valery Prunier, the developer of the project. “We are on a mission to make change. We’re doing that by creating this 100% automated charging solution.” On the electric highway, cars will be able to recharge while driving using a conductive system. The road will be fitted with a rail, a stick fixed to the bottom of the vehicle will travel through the track. The stick “which is basically a very simple collector mounted on springs will go down and touch the rail attached to the pavement as soon as the vehicle is on top of the rail” explained Valery.
The electrified track set to be embedded on Paris’ A10 will be the ultimate example of Elonroad’s solution. This world premiere will showcase two achievements: it will demonstrate the automatic dynamic charging of a 100% electric truck, achieving 350-400 kW charging capacity at 90 km/h on the A10 using the Elonroad rail, for truck tractors, attached to a loaded trailer, resulting in a combined weight of 44 tons. It will also feature simultaneous charging on the A10 of a truck at 90 km/h, a van, and two cars at 130 km/h. At first, “it will have just one lane” but the start-up, backed by EIT Urban Mobility, “hopes to equip further sections of highways and could later equip a second lane depending on the density of traffic.”
Batteries and associated supercharges in electric vehicles were key to sparking “the first wave of electric mobility” explains Valery, but they’ve now become somewhat of a “major drawback because they are very heavy and large.” Electric vehicles can often be heavier than their traditional petrol or diesel counterparts, much of the extra weight is down to batteries in the cars. The power units are not only cumbersome, but they can also be prohibitively expensive, and it's up to consumers to foot the bill. In 2021 only 0.8 per cent all cars in the EU were fully electric. Valery Prunier believes bringing down the “size and cost associated with the vehicles'' will be key to boosting numbers.
Elonroad’s electrified highway which is a “100% automated charging solution” aims to rid electric cars of their heavy and expensive batteries, the stick to rail charging system means vehicles will no longer need to rely on the power units, therefore “decreasing the total cost” to be on par with “combustion engine vehicles,” explains Valery. Gen 2 batteries could reduce CO2 emissions by 64% compared to Gen 1, which already reduces them by 60% compared to diesel for freight road transportation. Additionally, the batteries will be reduced by a factor of 3 to 4 times.
The solution could have a massive impact on urban mobility. It has the potential of charging electric vehicles while they are idle as well, it can work “automatically at different times, during the day, during the night. This would allow logistic van delivery companies, for example, to move to electric vehicles much faster and much quicker than they had in mind.” The system is available for both cars and bigger vehicles, the technology adapts to the needs of both, “it is kind of ubiquitous because it can charge a car, a van, a bus, a truck, the same way with the same infrastructure.”
The possibility of charging up not just on the roads while moving but also in “different places, at home, at the depot, at loading / unloading sites, during the night or the day,” will mean vehicles can operate for longer periods of time and drivers can move around without range anxiety (the fear of running out of battery power in an electric vehicle mid-trip).
The start-up was able to secure initial funding and participated in various start-ups programmes from the European Union, via EIT Urban Mobility during the last years. The electrified highways from the Swedish clean-tech start-up could “aid the third generation of electric mobility, which is about autonomous cars. A lot of autonomous vehicle initiatives (though) in San Francisco, for example, still don’t have automated charging. You still have to get a cable.” Chargers for electric cars are known for being bulky and taking up space, Elonroad’s highway presents a more seamless solution with the electricity rail installed into the road directly.
Along with support from EIT Urban Mobility, Elonroad will also receive large investment from the French government, as part of the France 2030 investment initiative. “This is a game changer” declares Valery, after the “big and multipartner studies, they conducted in 2021, they decided to make a call for tender for approving these automated charging solutions for highways.”
The plan signifies a marriage between Sweden and France, two countries that are leading sustainability in Europe and the world. “It is fantastic to see two of the lowest carbon electricity countries in the world joining forces to bring Electric Road Systems (ERS) to life. This partnership is a significant step towards realising the true potential of Gen 2 electric mobility.” expressed Karin Ebbinghaus, CEO of Elonroad. Generation 2 in electric mobility is the next wave of innovation in the sector, it enables EVs to charge while in motion on electric road systems integrated into roads.
The French government has decided that “we need to change the scale. We need to accelerate the transition and again, we do it by bringing the cost down and the ease of use” believes Valery. An uptake in electric cars would take the continent closer to decarbonizing, especially as the EU eyes up its goal of requiring all new cars sold to have zero CO2 emissions from 2035.
Louis du Pasquier, Decarbonization Director at VINCI Autoroutes, expresses gratitude on behalf of the consortium to the French government and BPIFrance for their financial support of the Charge As You Drive project. “We are excited to collaborate and actively contribute to the global deployment of Electric Road Systems. This partnership is a crucial step in our shared vision for a sustainable and efficient future of road transportation."
Less dependency on batteries and therefore the raw materials, such as lithium and cobalt used to make them, also stands to benefit France. It could generate jobs and industrial activity in the country, where most of the Elonroad components will be manufactured.
The Swedish clean-tech company and VINCI say the highway will be finished by 2025. “And then of course it will take a couple of years to install more kilometres on more highways…we are dreamers.”