Philadelphia Scientific’s Owner Has a Bright Idea: Electric Roads

How do you keep electric cars running? An innovative answer.

Frank Hebbert | Flickr | Shared under a Creative Commons license.

Frank Hebbert | Flickr | Shared under a Creative Commons license.

With the exception of Tesla, electric cars haven’t gotten very far with the American car-buying public — or manufacturers for that matter. One reason? Keeping them on the road is hard. They either need big, cumbersome batteries, or more recharging stations than currently exist. And the conundrum gets more pressing when you consider the coming advent of driverless — yes, driverless — cars that advocates envision will be on the road perpetually, never parking.

Will Jones, the owner of Montgomeryville-based Philadelphia Scientific, has helped offer a possible answer: Electric roads.

No, the entire road wouldn’t be electrified: Instead, a metal charging strip would be embedded in highways — creating miniature trolleys of a sort — ensuring travelers don’t run out of juice far away from home or civilization. The proposal just won an innovation award from the Smart Transportation Alliance.

“It’s a magical thing,” Jones told BloombergBusiness recently. “If you achieve direct contact, energy density for battery-electric cars goes from inadequate to infinite.”

The idea was produced by the Tracked Electric Vehicle Project, an open-sourced effort that Jones co-founded in 2012. The project has bases in both the United States and United Kingdom. His daughter, Caroline Jones Carrick, is director of the project.

“Ultimately, we want to see change: not only to road infrastructure, but to the way people travel across the world,” Carrick told the Scotsman after the award was announced. “Congestion, emissions problems and rising costs of road repairs need to be addressed now so the transportation of tomorrow is cleaner, greener, safer and affordable.”

She told The Fifth Estate: “My father is a businessman, a mechanical engineer. I call him a conscience entrepreneur, an entrepreneur with a conscience. The concept was his idea in order to help reduce emissions and our oil consumption and find a better way to get around. We never set out to make money and I’ve always been part of that goal. We feel that it has to be open source.”

BloombergBusiness reports the TEV Project plans to build a first trial road by next yea. The estimated cost: $1.2 million to $1.8 million per mile. Officials say it could cost $295 billion to electrify all 164,000 miles of U.S. federal highways.

Jones has owned Philadelphia Scientific since 1983.