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Indiana is building an electrified highway to charge EVs as they drive over it

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

As more people buy electric vehicles, states are looking for ways to make the technology more practical and less costly. In Indiana, an experiment is just beginning. Construction crews are building an electrified highway that could charge even the largest vehicles as they drive over it. Ben Thorp of member station WFYI reports.

BEN THORP, BYLINE: I'm standing here at Indiana Highway 231 on the Northwestern side of the state. Workers here have cut 85 four-by-12-foot rectangles in the concrete.

BLAKE DOLLIER: Dug out a section of the roadway where the electric charging panels are going to go in the road.

THORP: Blake Dollier is with the Indiana Department of Transportation.

DOLLIER: Right now you can see some of the workers are out here with jackhammers, with things like that.

THORP: The brain behind the project is Purdue University's Steve Pekarek. The engineering professor is the lead researcher on the project, and he says the technology could make a transition to electric vehicles more attractive.

STEVE PEKAREK: If you can have ubiquitous charging, you really reduce the cost of electric vehicles because you reduce the battery size. You reduce the range anxiety. So the adoption rate will likely increase. That's kind of an overall vision.

THORP: However, critics argue that the adoption of the technology will be a massive undertaking, requiring cars to be redesigned and large infrastructure investments to be made across states. But Pekarek says he knows the technology will need buy-in. His team has come up with a way to make it more palatable. The focus will be on fleets of semi trucks because companies might be more willing to make the investment if long-haul trucks don't have to stop for fuel.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL RATTLING)

THORP: In Professor Pekarek's lab, the design for the new roadway is laid out on a long table. One set of coils looped together simulates the bottom of a truck. Another set of coils below that is supposed to be the road. And when a truck passes over those coils, it will create a charge. Pekarek says it's like a giant wireless phone charger.

PEKAREK: If you're talking about how much power is required for a heavy-duty vehicle as it's moving down the roadway at 65 miles an hour, you're talking about 200 kilowatts. And to put that into perspective, that's on the scale of about a hundred homes.

THORP: Indiana officials say the cost of the quarter-mile strip of highway is $11 million. Once that roadway is built, Dollier with Indiana's Transportation Department says researchers will look at things like road wear and tear and the effectiveness of the system during different kinds of weather.

DOLLIER: Being able to have this go well enough here that we use it in other places - that's something that we're, you know, really hoping we're able to see.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARGING STATION BEEPING)

THORP: At a charging station outside of the public library in Indianapolis, Jason Hofsetz (ph) is getting ready to plug in. He has been using electric vehicles for roughly a decade and has put in some miles.

JASON HOFSETZ: I drove a non-Tesla from West to East Coast.

THORP: Hofsetz likes the idea of a vehicle-charging highway. Even so, he is skeptical.

HOFSETZ: It'll take a long time to get us to that point 'cause I don't trust our usual roads as it is right now. And I say that having blown a tire out just last month on a pothole.

THORP: And with basic asphalt highways in constant need of repair, he worries about an added layer of technology. Researchers hope to be able to alleviate those types of concerns. Tests of Indiana's electric highway are set to begin sometime early next year. For NPR News, I'm Ben Thorp in West Lafayette, Ind.

(SOUNDBITE OF GARY NUMAN SONG, "CARS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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