America’s Motor City Travels Electric Road to Resurrection

The City of Detroit, birthplace of the American auto industry, is about to install the nation's first electric road. Electric cars, trucks and buses will be able to charge their batteries as they travel along a one-mile (1.6km) stretch of the downtown where the first wireless infrastructure for EV charging will be embedded in a U.S. public road.

The Israeli company Electreon Wireless, Ltd. has been chosen to build the electric road for its proprietary technology - special copper coils embedded in the pavement that send magnetic frequencies to a charging pad underneath a vehicle.

Electreon explains that wireless electric road technology is based on magnetic resonance induction. This phenomenon in turn is based on the discovery of late 19th C electricity pioneer Nikola Tesla, who demonstrated magnetic resonant coupling - the ability to transmit electricity through the air by creating a magnetic field between two circuits, a transmitter and a receiver.

Electreon installs copper coils just under the surface of a roadway, working at night to minimize traffic disruption. The coils transfer energy to a receiver that can be mounted under any kind of electric vehicle. The technology can be deployed along public roads, tollways, motorways, bus routes, taxi lanes, in parking lots, and at commercial depot centers. It can charge stationary EVs standing a loading docks or waiting for passengers.

And - very important for winter driving in icy Detroit - the energy transfer is not affected by snow and ice.

The technology reduces the need for large batteries and extensive grid connection capacity, flattening the electrical demand curve, lowering costs and enabling better management of transport energy.

"We are proud and thankful to be selected by the Michigan Department of Transportation to lead and implement the first wireless electric road system in the United States," said Stefan Tongur, vice president of Electreon. "We're excited to be transferring our success in wireless charging for a variety of electric fleets - from cars to buses and heavy-duty trucks - to this innovative project. There's important work ahead with our partners in Detroit to develop scalable, plug-free charging that will future-proof the city's EV infrastructure." 

Motor City Rising

The new electric road will be the centerpiece of a whole reimagination and redevelopment project for downtown Detroit, which had fallen into disrepair so severe that when the City filed for bankruptcy in the summer of 2013, it was crushed under $18 billion of debt, unable to pay for many basic city services.

But today, Detroit on the resurrection track, and the new pilot electric road project is part of the grand design.

On February 4, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer joined Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford, Google Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to announce a new partnership to activate the Michigan Central Innovation District as a Transportation Innovation Zone.

Anchored by the iconic Michigan Central Train Station, the district will serve as a hub for talent, mobility innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainability, affordable housing, small business opportunities and community engagement - and the nation's first electric road.

JUST A FEW YEARS AGO, THIS TRAIN STATION WAS OUR CITY'S INTERNATIONAL SYMBOL OF ABANDONMENT. NOW IT'S THE SYMBOL OF OUR CITY'S RESURGENCE AND SOON WILL ANCHOR THIS NEW INNOVATION DISTRICT, DEVELOPED BY FORD, WHERE INNOVATORS FROM AROUND THE WORLD WILL CREATE THE FUTURE OF MOBILITY.

Mike Duggan

Detroit Mayor

The Israeli company Electreon has installed an electric road in Israel by placing copper conductors under the pavement and receivers on the undercarriages of electric vehicles. (Screengrab from video courtesy Electreon)
The Israeli company Electreon has installed an electric road in Israel by placing copper conductors under the pavement and receivers on the undercarriages of electric vehicles. (Screengrab from video courtesy Electreon)

"For more than a century, Detroit has been the leader in automotive innovation and today marks a major step forward in keeping Detroit at the forefront of mobility innovation for the next century," the mayor said.

"Only a few short years ago, I announced Ford’s investment in Detroit because I believed in a vision that reimagined the iconic Michigan Central train station and surrounding area as a place of possibility again,” said Bill Ford, Executive Chair, Ford Motor Company, and the great-grandson of Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford.

Earlier this month, Bill Ford announced he would invest US$1 billion in Michigan Central Station, to turn the deserted icon into a campus for technology and innovation.

In 2020, Whitmer created the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification to create and support this kind of collaboration.

Federal Funding Enables the Electric Road

The investment in Detroit's electric road demonstration of embedded wireless charging infrastructure is made possible by President Joe Biden's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed late last year in a bipartisan vote.

It authorizes the U.S. Federal Highway Administration to invest $5 billion to build the first-ever national network of EV chargers.

"This is such an exciting time for the Motor City and the entire state. Michigan continues to lead the charge on electric vehicles, and this investment in the first public wireless in-road charging system in the U.S. further solidifies our position as a leader in EV technology," said U.S. Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, who represents a suburb just north of Detroit.

"Public-private partnerships like this is how we will promote innovation and outcompete the rest of the world. I applaud Electreon for receiving this award, and I'll continue to champion investments in electric vehicle infrastructure."

MICHIGAN IS AGGRESSIVELY ROLLING OUT VARIOUS CHARGING SOLUTIONS AND WE NEED TO CONTINUE TO STAY AHEAD OF THE TECHNOLOGY CURVE. A WIRELESS IN-ROAD CHARGING SYSTEM WILL BE REVOLUTIONARY FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLES.

Paul Ajegba

Michigan Transportation Director

"The federal support for electric vehicles comes at a very good time for Michigan as our department works with other state agencies and private-sector interests to develop a charging network with neighboring states through the Lake Michigan EV Circuit," said Ajegba. The Circuit on Lake Michigan's western shore will let electric vehicle drivers travel along the lake through three states: Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, without worry about recharging.

"The new EV charging infrastructure funds Michigan will receive create a big opportunity for our state to accelerate the EV market, providing assurance to car buyers that they will have access to charging stations to get around the state," said Charles Griffith, Climate and Energy Program Director at the Ecology Center and co-chair of the Transportation Workgroup of the Council on Climate Solutions.

Although Electreon is based in a tiny town on Israel's Mediterranean shore, Michigan's bet on Electreon is not a long shot.

Electreon’s wireless charging technology is already being demonstrated at scale as part of public projects in Germany, Italy, Sweden and Israel. Globally, the company has built a diverse ecosystem of more than 60 construction, utility and auto manufacturing partners to support its technology pilots and business development activities.

To date, the company’s patented technology has been integrated with a wide range of vehicles, as part of its ongoing collaborations with auto manufacturers such as Renault, Stellantis, Iveco, and Volkswagen.

In November, Electreon’s wireless charging technology was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Best Inventions of 2021.

And that creativity on Electreon's part is inspirational for Michigan's transportation planners.

"Here in Michigan, embracing bold innovations that transform the future of mobility and electrification is a part of our DNA," said Trevor Pawl, chief mobility officer for the State of Michigan. "We are thrilled to see how Electreon's proposals become a nationwide model for how we can continue accelerating electric vehicle adoption and usher in a new generation of transportation technologies."