Worry about where they’ll plug in an electric vehicle to replenish its charge is a major roadblock for many consumers who aren’t ready to trade in their gas burners for battery-powered rides. It is also an issue of inconvenience and efficiency for business operations using battery electric robots and transport vehicles.
But WiTricity, a global developer of wireless loading technology, is now attracting millions in new investment from automotive OEMs and technology companies, and enters into a new agreement with a major manufacturer of wireless charging systems for industrial vehicles.
This week, the Watertown, Massachusetts-based company announced a global licensing deal with a German tech company Wiferion to use WiTricity’s patented intellectual properties to further develop its wireless charging capabilities for industrial electrical devices, including robots and transport carts.
“It’s a great application, contactless. so they use our technology. They are not the only licensee in this space,” WiTricity CEO Alex Gruzen told Forbes.com in an interview. “We have our automotive core. Then we have adjacent markets where we license our technology. »
WiTricity estimates that wireless charging increases plant availability by 32% through efficiencies achieved by enabling continuous autonomous operations and eliminates safety concerns associated with eliminating exposed electrical connectors.
“Having access to WiTricity’s patent portfolio will allow us to further refine our value proposition and accelerate the adoption of wireless charging in industrial automation,” Wiferion CEO Florian Reiners said in a statement. .
While the Wiferion deal is a significant extension of WiTricity’s reach, the company’s core automotive business gained a major financial and confidence boost earlier this summer by winning a $25 million investment from the german car supplier Siemens AG which also took a minority stake.
Gruzen pointed to three key elements of the Siemens deal that don’t offer WiTricity a financial boost, but even greater opportunities to promote wireless charging.
“The three important parts are, first, the investment, second, the collaboration agreement under which we will launch the product on the market. Siemens will sell wireless charging infrastructure. They will have a license to our portfolio of technology patents and will be able to develop, build and extend the licensed products using our patents,” Gruzen explained.
But more importantly, Gruzen said, WiTricity’s relationship in the automotive industry will now expand.
“Siemens is an important statement. Instead of just supporting the first (suppliers) or selling chargers directly to consumers, an OEM now knows that if a fleet needs hundreds of chargers, players like Siemens step in and seize the opportunity. It’s like proof of existence,” Gruzen said.
Siemens estimates that the global wireless charging market will reach $2 billion by 2028 in Europe and North America alone.
Looking at the big picture of reducing consumers’ reluctance to go electric due to charging issues, Gruzen sees the cordless option as a more convenient way for drivers to get enough juice quickly. and to be on the go, especially when they don’t have the time or the ability to plug into a DC fast charger.
“I want to make level 2 charging as easy as possible. I call it energy nibbling. You just do small refills every time you park, wherever you are, instead of that big supply pipe rarely “said Gruzen.
Indeed, WiTricity has worked closely with the SAE to develop a wireless charging standard and one of the aims of the company’s new relationship with Siemens is to fill the gaps in global wireless charging standardization. for passenger electric vehicles and light commercial vehicles.
This standard was ratified in 2020 and the first vehicles built around this standard are now being rolled out, including the Genesis GV60 SUV. It includes an integrated charging receiver and a pad placed under the car.
“The car stops, parks, turns off the car, you drive away,” Gruzen said.
In China, automaker FAW and Wanda Group are creating 60 self-driving parking lots where vehicles park, recharge and then return to the driver when summoned.
Visitors to September’s North American International Detroit Auto Show will be able to see a demonstration of this technology on the Huntington Place show floor and take a shuttle ride to a nearby test garage.
The “sweet spot” for passenger cars is 11 kilowatts or 35 miles of range per hour, Gruzen noted. For larger commercial vehicles, this spot is heavier.
“For commercial vehicles, we are developing 75 kW and above,” Gruzen explained. “Think of a loading dock where you load a mid-mile truck or a last-mile van or a bus that you can do 75 to 300 kw, so the transit bus can have a range of 25 miles while the driver is on a coffee break. A truck could get everything it needs for the day while sitting at the loading dock.”
He supports the Biden administration’s proposal to create a national charging network using plug-in chargers for the purpose of “range extension” when drivers make long trips. However, he argues, using DC fast chargers for everyday applications is not sustainable.
“The network will not be able to support it. The cost of infrastructure, the cost of fast chargers, the cost per kilowatt hour is awful,” Gruzen said. “In practice, if you’re using DC fast charging to provide the bulk of your kilowatt hours, you’re foregoing any cost savings of switching to electric versus gasoline and that’s likely to have an impact on how long battery life.”
While EVs are popular or even mandatory in other parts of the world, will they reach that level in the US where EVs only make up around 5% of the market?
“I don’t think the current mix represents American demand. There are people who don’t buy because there just isn’t an EV for them. The United States is not Europe,” Gruzen predicted.
But looking further into the future, Gruzen is confident that EV charging will eventually cut the cord anyway, noting: “Anything with a cord or cable will go wireless. It’s happened with every technology in history.