Cutting ties

Magment CEO Mauricio Esguerra reveals to Alex Kreetzer how inductive charging will reduce the size of batteries, the strain on city grids and improve EV efficiency.

Wireless charging isn’t a recent innovation. In fact, the technology has existed for some time now, which may sound rather strange as it has only just turned up in the automotive industry. This is mostly because wireless charging within concrete wasn't part of the requirements for EVs at the time, so the innovation couldn't be utilised properly. Mauricio Esguerra and his colleague, who back then worked for Siemens, both worked on General Motors’ EV1 project in the 90s, responsible for the inductive charging on the vehicle - however, this was a different kind of wireless charging than what we see today. Around 15 years ago, both of them left the company disappointed that such promising technology wasn’t kicking off, understanding the importance that wireless charging would have later on. However, five years ago, the company that followed Siemens, contacted Esguerra and offered him the patent, allowing him to revive the promising technology. "We immediately recognised that the time was right, along with the cost and performance advantages of the material, which led us to found Magment with the clear vision to enter into the market to make dynamic wireless charging," he explains.

The technology may be ready, although there is still a lot of work to do in terms of investors, customers and partners. From a real-world perspective, Esguerra drives an electric vehicle, so he understands the focus on convenience when charging. "We are looking at making the process of energy movement as available and convenient as possible,” he says. “Wireless charging is there to fill the gap of fueling the vehicle automatically so that consumers are not actively involved in plugging in a wire and being stuck in one place." This process should be completely different to filling up with petrol or diesel, removing the burden of having to plug in and wait for the vehicle to charge, which will make living with an EV much easier. Fundamentally, everyone is trying to optimise time and utilisation, and wireless charging directly addresses this.

Lifeproof charging

One topic that isn't focused on enough is the vandalism of EV infrastructure which, although not on the front page of the papers, has been a huge problem for many EV charging companies. Paris, for example, is experiencing issues where vandals are cutting the charging cables on a daily basis, to sell the copper inside. This becomes a very expensive and time-consuming problem for authorities and the power business, which cannot do much to prevent it. On the other hand, buried under the surface, wireless charging cannot be vandalised and does not need to be maintained anywhere near as much as conventional charging stations, providing a simple, safe solution to modern-day problems.

Another issue with plug-in charging is that it is extremely hard to build stations and home systems in cities that have a lack of drives or areas where a public network can be set up. Wireless charging takes up much less room and, in Magment's case, can even be built into road structures, allowing unlimited space to incorporate EV fueling. "There is no ownership of the wireless charging, without any fueling stations, which means that you do not need to charge overnight as this occurs when driving,” adds Esguerra. “This is a very important principle because it removes the burden of charging stations."

But, most importantly, In the event that everyone had an overnight charging station installed, there is a very high chance that the network would collapse due to high levels of energy being used at once - something that the grid is not designed to support. "The implication of wireless charging is that you have a decentralised network and generate the energy on site so that you can manage the energy generation and the solution will be better." Ultimately, smaller batteries with more frequent charging is the most efficient route to go down - a different solution to what many in the industry thought.

Avoiding disruption

Inductive charging will, above all else, free up a lot of space. However, the process behind it could cause delays as roads may have to be pulled up in order to insert wireless panels. This is fine on a small scale, but large rollouts may disrupt roads and the infrastructure surrounding them. Esguerra addresses this central question, explaining that Magment is already in talks with Finland and the city of Salo, showing that it is possible to work around a busy city. "In order to understand in detail how this works in terms of time and cost, we are going to have a minimally invasive approach to this,” he ensures. “You would need to cut into the street between approximately 15-20 cm, which is an operation that can be done in a conventional way through deeper refurbishing."

This means that you would only need to access the electrical lines, instead of completely rebuilding the street. From here, a precastered model would only take three to five days to install. A Finnish company working with Magment is able to bring power lines up from the stations to provide the energy and support, so it is a matter of collaborating with utility companies to achieve this vision. "In bigger and denser cities such as Paris, London and Munich it becomes more difficult, but I think that we would first focus on a rollout in places where people spend more time with their vehicle," he continues.

To make sure that there are minimal disruptions to the existing infrastructure, Magment must work alongside local authorities and investors to drive the rollout of wireless charging in cities. Esguerra believes that this is the only way: "We must be in direct contact with local authorities and it is much easier to engage with construction companies than multiple electric entities. We must also work hand-in-hand with those responsible for production and parts. The cement companies have the understanding and the network to enter into this local authority business."

This year, Magment will found a company in Washington, DC which will work on projects in cities around Latin America. This will be instrumental in getting Magment access to all the cities, whether that is through rapid-charging electric bus systems or wireless road charging.

An agile solution

Wireless charging could play a huge part in the increased adoption of EVs, thanks to removing the burden of charge times and the general hassle that surrounds the alternative energy. "The main problem is not that there aren't enough chargers, but that they are not all compatible with every vehicle," says Esguerra. "There are too many plug-in standards which means that there will be many cases where you do not have the right vehicle; this is especially the case with car brands outside of Europe, like Nissan." Inductive charging creates a universal global standard which has been embraced by the automotive industry and this will soon be running in the right direction.

Now for the million dollar question: what comes first - the infrastructure or the vehicles? This ‘chicken and egg’ scenario has loomed over our heads for many years now, with different players in the sector hesitant to make the first move. Now that we have established EVs on our roads, it seems that the infrastructure has been lagging behind, although Esguerra believes that the entire industry needs to exert pressure on the responsible infrastructure. "Every time we have the opportunity to speak to city officials, they will always ask whether the industry is going to move forward at the same pace." Cities around the world should look at how China is approaching this shift, with the country already preparing for electrification, hand-in-hand with the manufacturers.

Another issue found with EVs is the batteries, which are far too expensive at the moment. The potential of wireless charging can minimise these costs, driving down the price of EVs and, therefore, increasing adoption. "If you don't need to charge a huge battery overnight, you can charge a smaller battery more often as you drive with the process of wireless charging,” states Esguerra. “The savings on the battery and cost of the vehicle will make an additional contribution to the macroeconomics of electrification." It is interesting to look at batteries becoming smaller, rather than the focus on increasing the size to eliminate range anxiety. Bigger batteries and overnight charging will put significant stress on the grid and is not a sustainable model to live by. We cannot continue thinking that it is all about storing as much energy on board to travel as far as possible; wireless charging will allow us to travel further without putting anywhere near as much stress on the grid systems and saving more energy in our cities. 

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