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Public officials break ground on highway project that charges electric cars while driving: 'The possibilities are endless'

"We're just hopeful that this is something that can really benefit a lot of people here … and maybe even across the country going forward."

"We're just hopeful that this is something that can really benefit a lot of people here ... and maybe even across the country going forward."

Photo Credit: Purdue University

A groundbreaking highway project that could be key to reducing harmful pollution from heavy cargo is now underway in the Crossroads of America. 

At the end of March, the Indiana Department of Transportation announced that construction would soon begin on a first-of-its-kind quarter-mile segment of road that can charge electric passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks.

The system, designed by engineers at Purdue University, is similar to a project in Detroit that uses copper inductive coils to charge EVs as they drive, idle, or park. 

However, as explained in a press release by the university, highway charging requires higher levels of power because of the speed of travel and higher weight of cargo vehicles. 

Purdue's system, being built in partnership with Cummins Inc., will be able to charge semis traveling at 65 miles per hour

Electrifying heavy-duty trucks would go a long way toward improving air quality by reducing pollution linked to health issues like asthma and rising global temperatures. The Environmental Protection Agency notes that medium- and heavy-duty vehicles account for 23% of heat-trapping gases generated by transportation in the United States. 

As Nadia Gkritza, a Purdue professor of civil engineering and agricultural and biological engineering, pointed out in a university press release, this part of the supply chain "is the most challenging part of the transportation sector to decarbonize."

According to Purdue, unlike similar projects that work with asphalt, its technology can safely function underneath asphalt and concrete, the latter of which is used in roughly 20% of the country's interstates. 

Indiana is a strategic transportation location, with 80% of the U.S. within one day's drive of its highways. The Midwestern state also has the largest number of pass-through highways and the second-largest FedEx hub nationwide, according to manufacturing and logistics firm Conexus Indiana

In short, reducing the number of gas-powered vehicles on the nation's crossroads could have a widespread positive impact on public health. 

"Really the possibilities are endless," INDOT public relations director Blake Dollier told Inside Climate News in April after construction of the project on U.S. Highway 52 began. "And we're just hopeful that this is something that can really benefit a lot of people here in the state of Indiana and maybe even across the country going forward."

During the testing phase, the highway's charging benefits will only be available to vehicles with special transmitters, which draw power from the coils via magnetic fields. 

"If you have a cellphone and you place it on a charger, there is what's called magnetic fields that are coming up from the charger into that phone. … We're doing something similar," professor of electrical and computer engineering Steve Pekarek told "American Innovators." 

Inside Climate News reported that the pilot program is expected to officially begin when construction wraps up in the summer of 2025. If all goes well, Indiana hopes to have a section of its interstate electrified over the next four to five years, according to Purdue.

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