Look, no hands: Edinburgh road tests for wireless-charge vans

Road tests for a fleet of wireless-charge electric vans are beginning today in the Scottish capital as part of a ground-breaking green transport project.

Instead of having to plug into a mains socket, the battery-powered vans can be recharged by simply parking over a special pad set into the ground.

Vehicles can top up in less than an hour.

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Experts believe the ‘hands-free’ technology can help speed the move to greener transport and also help pave the way for fully autonomous vehicles.

Revolutionary wireless charging technology is being tested on a fleet of electric vans in Edinburgh

The £1.6 million project is led by Flexible Power Systems (FPS), in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council and Heriot-Watt University.

“Wireless charging could offer fleets efficiencies in terms of number of chargers needed, time required for charging and space in depots – all barriers to electrification,” said Michael Ayres, managing director of FPS.

“In future, driverless vans could even be used, as no one is needed to plug in charging cables.”

City leaders have welcomed the trial.

Electric vans will be able to power up by parking over a special charging pad - the technology could help entirely driverless vehicles to become a reality by removing the need to plug in to a socket

Karen Doran, transport and environment vice convener at City of Edinburgh Council, said: “Our commitment to supporting cleaner, more sustainable transport in the capital, both as part of our City Mobility Plan and our ambition to become carbon neutral by 2030, starts with our own fleet, and advances such as this will help us achieve our goals.”

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Scott Millar, manager of the council’s vehicles, said: “We already use electric vehicles across our fleet and providing charging infrastructure like shared hubs is an important next step to ensure both the council and the community feel confident about the cost, reliability and range of electric vehicles.

"All councils are looking at ways to reduce transport emissions in cities, and we’re excited to take a leadership role here as a successful project in Edinburgh could show them the way forward.”

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Funding for the trial is being provided by the UK Government’s Office for Low-Emission Vehicles through its innovation agency Innovate UK.

Transport is the biggest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, generating a third of the total.

The project comes as part of the move to reach net-zero by 2045 in Scotland and 2050 in the UK.

Sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will end by 2030 in the UK, with a target for all new cars and vans to be zero-emission by 2035.

Plans to phase out sales of all petroleum-based heavy goods vehicles by 2040 have also been set out.

Large-scale adoption of electric vehicles is seen as a crucial element in achieving the targets.

There were almost 400,000 plug-in electric vehicles on roads across the nation at the end of last year and more than one in seven cars sold so far in 2021 had a plug.

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Researchers at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University have been working with industry representatives from LogisticsUK and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to ensure real-world challenges are addressed as part of the project.

Professor Phil Greening is deputy director of the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, a joint initiative between Heriot-Watt University and Cambridge University.

Prof Greening says wireless charging is a cornerstone technology and an essential requirement if commercial vehicles are to transport goods without drivers in years to come.

“There are enormous challenges for us to overcome if we are to see autonomous commercial vehicles on our roads,” he said.

“Our role for around the past three years has been to explore future scenarios, assisted by advanced computer modelling in order to determine the benefits of wireless charging and find solutions to these challenges.”

He added: “Our research will help accelerate the decarbonisation of last-mile deliveries and crucially reduce the cost of those operations.”

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