South Korea Releases Electric Public Transportation System

 By Victoria Cheung               

olev-south-korea-electric-road large verge medium landscapeImagine a vehicle that runs strictly on electricity and recharges its battery as it gets driven. South Korea has made this into a reality by releasing two such buses for public transportation in early August. Researchers at the Korean Advanced Institute of Technology (KAIST) call this the On Line Electric Vehicle (OLEV) charging system – a system that uses underground cables to create an electromagnetic field. As the bus drives over the cables on its route, a receiving device located on the underside of the bus will be exposed to the electromagnetic fields, convert this to electricity, and charge the battery.

Currently, South Korea has laid out fifteen miles of these underground cables in the city of Gumi. KAIST assures that the electromagnetic fields abide by international standards of safety and are weak enough for pedestrians. The fields are also cost-effective and turn on only when sensors detect an OLEV bus, preventing unnecessary energy expenditure and EMF exposure. Moreover, the buses allow for batteries that are three times smaller than a regular electric car battery, as they only need to hold enough of a charge to reach the next power strip. If all goes well, KAIST hopes to be running ten of these buses by 2015.

The cost of constructing fifteen miles of cable-embedded roads was approximately 4.8 billion Won or $4.32 million, with a construction time of six months. Two years were required to commercialize and implement the technology itself. Excluding a high cost, perhaps the biggest limitation of OLEV technology is that vehicles cannot stray from its route until cables are constructed under roads everywhere. For now, the cables are analogous to train tracks because they dictate the only route that buses can take.

Implementing this into large cities may become problematic because sections of roads need to be dug up to install cables beneath the road – a probable disturbance to the infrastructure of the city. However, these short-sighted problems bring many long-term benefits. Not only are OLEV buses extremely energy-efficient, Korea has forecasted that it can avoid importing 35 million barrels of crude oil per year if half of its 12 million cars ran on OLEV technology. This would save $3 billion per year and require only two atomic power plants to power this amount of cars, while encouraging more CO2-free power plants.

Lastly, OLEV technology overcomes the problems that traditional electric cars have with lithium batteries in terms of power capacity, weight, material price, recharging time, and lack of charging stations. In addition to this, our diminishing lithium resources plus a high demand for traditional electric cars would eventually push prices skyward. OLEV technology crosses out this list of worries and instead provides an impressive an 85% maximum power transmission efficiency rate, 136 horsepower, and lower prices from the reduced amount of materials for a smaller battery.

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