Wireless charging can occur en-route or in depot situations without the need for cables or plugs

The first UK trial of wireless charging technology for light commercial vans will launch in Edinburgh next spring.

Heriot-Watt University, Flexible Power Systems (FPS) and City of Edinburgh Council have been awarded funding worth £1.6m for the project, which has potential to accelerate commercial fleet electrification across the UK.

Wireless charging allows electric vehicles (EVs) to recharge while parked on charging pads instead of using cables that need to be manually plugged in by a driver.

The project will get underway at Heriot Watt University’s Edinburgh campus in early 2021 to service specially adapted vans from both City of Edinburgh Council and Heriot-Watt’s estates team. The technology has already been proven for mass transit applications and will be supplied by specialist firm, Momentum Dynamics.

The trial is funded by the Office for Low-Emission Vehicles and delivered through Innovate UK.

A recent Centrica survey highlighted that UK companies are planning to invest £12bn in fleet electrification over the next two years, driven by a combination of policy drivers, improving economics, and expanding model choice.

This project aims to accelerate the transition to EV in commercial vehicle fleets by reducing the cost of charging the vans. If the project is successful, wireless charging technology could be adopted by fleets across the UK.

The project ultimately aims to apply wireless charging to shared logistics hubs where fulfilment functions can be combined with charging. The technology will be applied to improve vehicle turnaround times and staff productivity at the hubs enhancing cost savings.

Road transport accounted for 25% of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 with vans contributing over 4% of that figure.

“Productivity drivers and longer journeys mean commercial vehicles may need to charge away from the depot or at high speeds during the day," explained FPS MD Michael Ayres: "Rapid and ultra-rapid chargers required for a fast turnaround make up less than 25% of publicly available chargers and can be difficult to access if they are in use or out of service.

“High power rapid chargers can be expensive both in terms of the chargers themselves and the electricity network infrastructure required to support them. Sharing the cost of the charger and the connection through a shared charging hub can mitigate a portion of these costs. The project is testing sharing of the charging hubs between logistics, retailer, local government and university owned commercial vehicles.

“These charging hubs require high use to be economically viable. The project uses powerful wireless charging to shorten the length of time vehicles need to be in the charging hubs. At the same time, we are investigating adding basic fulfilment capabilities to improve the productivity of logistics vehicles visiting the hubs.”

Added professor Phil Greening, co-director of the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, based at Heriot-Watt University: “While highly utilised shared infrastructure and collaboration have great potential to reduce the costs of decarbonising road freight, there are complex scheduling and commercial trade-offs to be considered.

“The modelling tools and approaches developed in our Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded research at the Centre, combined with the collaboration we’ve undertaken with FPS over the last two years will both be key to untangling these challenges and making sure this potential is realised.”

Scott Millar, fleet and workshops manager for City of Edinburgh Council, said: “We are already deploying electric vehicles across our fleet and we’re looking at ways we can drive adoption in the wider community. Providing charging infrastructure like shared hubs has the potential to play a key part of removing barriers to uptake for both the council and the community. We’re excited to take a leadership role here as a successful project in Edinburgh could present a model for other councils to use to reduce transport emissions in cities.”