The Race for EVs
|Abigail Klein Leichman||March 16th 2017|
As more and more electric vehicles hit urban streets across the world, better battery-recharging solutions are desperately needed to improve range, keep costs low and boost user confidence.
Oren Ezer (CEO) and Hanan Rumbak (CTO) cofounded ElectRoad in 2013 to develop their unique twist on the concept of underground electric coils that recharge vehicles as they travel on the road.
In a few months, ElectRoad’s dynamic wireless electrification system is beginning a pilot project in Tel Aviv involving a short public bus route.
“The idea of electrifying vehicles from the road is trendy right now and you can see several companies trying to do a similar concept to us, but our technology is totally different, from the coils under the asphalt to the transfer of energy to the bus,” Ezer tells ISRAEL21c.
ElectRoad received funding in October 2015 from the European Union’s €18 billion Horizon 2020 project to refine its objectives, define its market segment and woo strategic partners.
“We can use the grants to create pilots in Europe, where we already have several partners, and will apply for Phase 2 Horizon 2020 grants at the end of 2017,” says Ezer. He expects to start a pilot project in 2018 in a European city modeled on the one in Tel Aviv.
ElectRoad’s copper-and-rubber electromagnetic induction strips are installed inside an 8-centimeter trench in the asphalt. From digging to repaving, the process can be completed on a one-kilometer stretch in half a day.
The system also requires smart inverters with real-time communication capabilities installed on the sides of the road; and a coil unit attached beneath the electric vehicle to receive the power over a small air gap to insure safety.
“We can easily retrofit any kind of electric bus, truck or car,” says Ezer. “All we’re doing is adapting the receiver.”
Because the ElectRoad system electrifies the engine directly, without going through the battery, the vehicle’s five-ton battery can be replaced with a much smaller battery – which is lighter and more energy-efficient – providing five kilometers worth of charging in areas that are not outfitted with the underground infrastructure.
The company’s offices are in Rosh HaAyin and its main facility is in Caesarea, but Tel Aviv was an obvious choice for its first pilot. The city already has made an investment in electric buses for public transportation.
“Tel Aviv is an innovative city and we have a lot of cooperation from everyone including the transportation authorities,” says Ezer.
ElectRoad also gets funding from the Israel Innovation Authority and the ministries of Transportation, Energy and Economy.
Rolling out slowly
The first market focus will be Europe, which is thirsty for clean transportation solutions.
The potential for ElectRoad’s system is huge, however, as China has thousands of electric buses and the United States is starting to get onto the electric transportation bandwagon.
Ezer and Rumbak, who met six years ago while working at Elbit Systems, plan to scale up ElectRoad very gradually. They learned their business lessons from conversations with 20 former employees of Better Place, the Israeli electric car network that went bankrupt in May 2013, due in part to overly ambitious and too rapid expansion.
“Better Place tried to eat the whole cake in one bite. That’s why we chose public transportation to start,” says Ezer. “There is a chicken-and-egg problem: You cannot create an electric transportation system before you have the first cars, so we understood that to penetrate the market through the private sector is wrong. We need to prepare the city first.”
Looking for evolution rather than revolution, Ezer and Rumbak plan to prove their cost-savings and pollution-preventing concept one bus line at a time, working their way up to taxis and eventually to private vehicles.
“We started everything with the mission of reducing pollution,” says Ezer. “Transportation is one of the keys to reducing pollution so that’s why we started there.”
The intellectual property is protected by a patent in London, and another three pending. The pilot systems are all made in Israel; eventually the heart of the system will be manufactured in Israel and the rest abroad.