If electric bicycles could be charged just by riding on a powered bike lane, would more people want to use them? A new design concept for an e-bike shows how the system might work, eliminating one of the challenges of this type of transportation—the need for batteries.
"Considering a future where power is everywhere, it makes no sense to me to have large, heavy batteries with short life cycles and polluting manufacturing and recycling processes," says Offer Canfi, the Royal College of Art graduate who created the design.
Most of the world's electric bikes—especially the 30 million produced each year in China—still use lead batteries. In China, lead production has caused mass poisonings, and recycling often causes even more problems when toxic wastewater is dumped in rivers. Though alternative batteries are becoming more common, they also have their own issues with manufacturing and disposal.
In Canfi's design, energy would be stored in a lightweight capacitor without the heavy metals or chemicals used in a typical battery. A simple attachment could be added to any bike to make it compatible with the system. A special bike lane, embedded with coils, would recognize the bike when it rides by, and wirelessly send it electricity. Solar panels along the roadside could provide enough power to keep the system running.
In addition to making electric bikes a lot greener, Canfi argues that the new system would be easier to use. Without batteries, e-bikes would be lighter, and you'd never have to worry about plugging in the bike to charge. As a bonus, you could also charge the phone or laptop in your backpack as you ride.
"If you consider the current problems that e-bike and other light electric vehicles suffer from, you can see two main things: batteries and range," he says. "Knowing that I don't have to charge my bike at work, and that if I'm on the power lane I can still easily cycle, makes the choice to ride instead of drive even easier—if you ever tried cycling on a depleted e-bike you know what I mean."
The system is something that he thinks could be possible in the near future. Although the fast-charging capacitors he envisions aren't available yet, inductive charging lanes are already starting to be used for buses in places like Sweden and Korea.
Canfi believes that electric bike lanes could dramatically increase the number of commuters who decide to stop driving and get on a bike. In the U.S. now, only 0.6% of commuters ride to work, and even fewer ride e-bikes. "I believe this project offers a viable solution for e-bikes to be widely adopted," Canfi says.