But not everyone is convinced. “It’s really nothing new,” says John M Miller, center director in the power electronics and electric machinery research group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. “Too many moving parts; it all comes down to the number of energy conversions that are involved." Here, the energy goes from electrical to mechanical and back to mechanical and then to electrical, the electrical engineer explained. And each step entails a loss in energy efficiency that adds up.
WiTricity’s Schatz was similarly skeptical, pointing out that leading automakers have already settled on designs that will be introduced “around 2015 to 2017”. The biggest interest is to place them in so-called plug-less hybrids, he says. In addition, the industry expects forthcoming devices to “be approaching the size and shape of a sheet of paper and lightweight to boot,” something that is perhaps at odds with the UBC magnetic system. WiTricity’s power-transfer technology – sometimes known as wireless electricity - has no moving parts and exploits a high-efficiency coupling between transmitter and receiver—a one-step energy transfer.
However, the UBC team is undeterred. A patent is now in the works and Whitehead expects that the technology will be licensed to other manufacturers, most likely through a spin-off company. “At this point we see no technological barriers to bringing this system to market and know no reason why it will not become the preferred mechanism for wireless charging of [electric vehicles].”