A different type of electric car may be gaining some ground in Korea.
According to an article in CIO by Moon Ihlwan, titled “Korea's On-the-Go Electric-Car Experiment,” 55 scientists and engineers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST), a top technology university, are working on designs for a shuttle service at a Seoul amusement park where vehicles will be driven with power transferred by magnetic induction from cables buried underground.
Ihlwan writes that auto companies around the world are touting plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles but in South Korea, researchers are working on an experimental alternative they say could revolutionize the way vehicles will be powered.
“The shuttle service will be the first time the technology will be used for public transportation,” Ihlwan wrote. “Under the university's plan, electricity-powered cars don't need to be equipped with heavy and bulky batteries that are too expensive for most consumers. That's because electric cars will be continuously charged while running on roads embedded with power strips.”
Ihlwan quotes Cho Dong Ho, director of KAIST’s Institute for Information Technology Convergence, who is heading this project called “Online Electric Vehicle" (OLEV). Cho claims magnetic induction technology would be "the most convenient and cost-effective" way to usher in an era of electric vehicles. KAIST researchers point out that it also resolves such problems associated with battery-powered vehicles as short driving range and long charge time.
"Given the need to cut down emissions, electrification of the power train appears inevitable," Ho told Ihlwan.
There are a number of questions to be addressed, so it could take years for OLEV to become commonplace. However, KAIST scientists have reported significant progress since the university first demonstrated the technology in February with a converted golf cart at its campus in Daejeon, 140km south of Seoul.
“One major challenge is to gain high efficiency of power transfer without the car coming into direct contact with the supply," Ihlwan continues. "When KAIST proposed the idea to Korean president Lee Myung Bak the magnetic device under the demo car was only 1cm above the ground and sucked up 80% of power from cables embedded in the road. Researchers managed to widen the gap to 17cm and improve efficiency to 72%."
Cost also remains a big question here. According to project coordinator Song Min Choul at KAIST, laying power strips underground would be less costly than building charging stations in big cities where real estate prices are exorbitantly high. "Investing in charging stations in cities doesn't make any business sense as electricity prices are too cheap to recoup investment," Song told Ihlwan.
Ihlwan said the OLEV system needs only one-fifth the size of the bulky batteries typically used, saving on advanced battery materials. That's because batteries will be charged while on the go or trapped in a traffic jam. Researchers at KAIST figure Korea needs to place underground charging strips beneath 30 percent of its roads to make the system work across the country. In other words, alleys and smaller roads in residential areas don't need underground power cables.
“Skeptics abound,” Ihlwan concludes. “The magnetic charging technology is not new but has not been commercialized since a similar test was made at the University of California-Lawrence Berkeley National Lab some two decades ago, according to critics. KAIST engineers respond that since then no serious research has taken place for the technology as oil prices stayed affordable until recently.
The Korean government, however, is prepared to give it a trial. The central government, which in May allocated $21 million for initial research this year on the project, is also reviewing another request for $83 million for next year's experiments as part of President Lee's plan to spur economic growth through green technologies. In addition, the Seoul metropolitan government set aside $832,000 to test the shuttle service at the city's amusement park. KAIST's target is to attract commercial investments from 2012 for gradual adoption of the system over 30 years.”
Image courtesy of Gizmag
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