Electric vehicles may be getting traction these days, but they will not likely be widely adopted until engineers figure out how to boost their range without having to increase their battery size, along with the extra weight and cost that entails. One way to accomplish this is to design cars that recharge wirelessly—or even automatically—while in motion.
This concept is being developed with the help of IEEE Member Joachim Taiber. Since 2010, he has been a research professor at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) in Greenville, S.C. There, he coordinates research across multiple engineering departments in energy-efficient transportation and advanced vehicle communications. He has made pioneering advances in vehicle electrification and communications technology, such as onboard systems that transmit safety-related information to nearby vehicles or real-time traffic conditions to transportation agencies.
Although stationary wireless charging systems are commercially available, in-motion charging is still in the R&D stage. Taiber and colleagues from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, are developing and testing a coil design for wireless charging of EVs along with a new vehicle infrastructure communication system using a test area near CU-ICAR.
Taiber and his team use coils with ferrite cores and Litz cables, a type of cable used in electronics to carry alternating current, wound around the cores and shielded with aluminum. A primary coil providing power is embedded in the road’s asphalt, while a secondary coil that receives the power is mounted on the underside of the vehicle. Current flowing through the primary coil creates an electromagnetic field that induces current in the secondary coil, thereby charging the vehicle’s battery. Part of Taiber’s research includes the development of a foreign object-detection system that can interrupt the energy flow immediately should, for example, an animal crawl under the car where the power transfer occurs.
Taiber’s wireless charging system would require coils to be embedded in roadways, as well as a sophisticated communication system to control and optimize power transfer to vehicles. “But it will only make economic sense when there are a significant number of plug-in hybrids and EVs on the road to use the infrastructure,” he points out. The short-term goal is to advance stationary wireless charging and prepare the vehicle technology for in-motion contactless charging at low speeds.
Taiber and his team are using an automated driving system to help the vehicle align its coils with those in the road so as to optimize the wireless power transfer. They’re also working on car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication systems that would eventually enable in-motion charging at highway speeds for multiple vehicles in a dedicated lane. As chair of the IEEE Standards Association’s Electric Vehicle Power Transfer Industry Connection group, Taiber is also leading efforts to standardize communication protocols and control commands for dynamic wireless charging.
Taiber has been fascinated with cars since childhood. He grew up in a small village near Baden-Baden, in Germany’s Black Forest. “My dad was a professional pilot, and my interest in cars may have had something to do with the fact that I always got airsick but never carsick,” he says with a laugh.
He earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1991 and a Ph.D. in technical sciences in 1996, both from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. While at school, Taiber held internships at BMW and Mercedes.
He joined BMW in Munich in 1997 as a senior in-house consultant in product development, and was promoted to head of IT innovation management and IT benchmarking in 2001. In 2005 he moved to its Information Technology Research Center (ITRC) as head of its project management office, and two years later went on to lead the information technology research. Taiber left the company in 2010 to join Clemson.
He got involved in electric transportation in 2008 when gas prices in the United States shot up. “There was suddenly a lot of interest in electric cars,” he says. “I, too, was interested and wanted to understand them better.”
In addition to his research at Clemson, Taiber has also helped advance EV technology through his IEEE efforts. He was instrumental in forming the IEEE Transportation Electrification Initiative, which encourages advances in electric transportation through meetings, conferences, newsletters, and a Web portal, among other resources. He was also general chair of the first IEEE International Electric Vehicle Conference, held in 2012 in Greenville, and is helping plan this year’s conference in December in Florence, Italy.