Being able to drive an electric vehicle that charges as it moves around city streets could soon be reality, with the Government pumping more than $11 million into new research to create in-road wireless pads.

The five-year project builds off revolutionary technology pioneered by University of Auckland professors John Boys and Grant Covic.

Driven by falling prices and a need to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the shift from petrol-fuelled vehicles to EVs was now well under way across the world.

Here, there are goals to get 64,000 EVs on New Zealand roads by 2021, including one third of government vehicles.


But potential buyers of EVs were still concerned about "range anxiety" - or the vehicles running out of power - and the hassle of having to plug them in at home or work.

The technology Boys and Covic want to design would solve both problems.

The pair's inductive power transfer technology essentially makes it possible for power to be transferred without cables, instead transporting the current across the magnetic field between two close points.

The same technology, which has its roots in an accidental discovery Boys and Covic made more than two decades ago, is today found in at least 70 per cent of the world's LCD screens, and other electronic equipment requiring computer chips are manufactured on systems using it.

In the new project, they aim to develop new charging pads that could survive being put into the roadway, and create new charging materials made of soft composites.

That might involve charging pads at intersections, or on slopes to support power transfer for vehicles travelling uphill.

"Technically, we can do that, but the question we are trying to solve now is, can we do it cost-effectively, without actually degrading the performance of the road, and ensure that the systems we put in the road can survive there for 10 to 30 years?" Covic said.

"That means we have to re-engineer and come up with new science around materials that can survive being in the road."


Covic saw some other obvious hurdles: notably that any objects placed in a road tended to damage the surface, and that Auckland's road profiles varied.

"All of the different means by which we build roads, these will have an impact on the nature of the design.

"So if we are going to solve the problems of future transport, and if we are going to end up with autonomous vehicles that will run 24/7 and are powered electrically, we want to be able to do it using this sort of technology."

The project was among 68 successful projects to win shares of around $250 million worth of funding through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Endeavour Fund.

A hybrid-electric airliner?

Meanwhile, researchers at Victoria University have received a $6.3 million Endeavour Fund grant to engineer cleaner solutions to the most climate-intensive form of transport: aviation.

The Robinson Research Institute in Victoria's Faculty of Engineering has been breaking ground in the field of superconductivity, a key mechanism needed to develop cleaner aviation technologies, such as hybrid electric aircraft.

The new funding would support a 30-year programme focused on high-temperature superconducting work and backed by Lockheed, Boeing, and Nasa, with the Kiwi team working on aspects of the high-torque, high-speed machines needed to make electric aviation a reality.

A hybrid-electric aircraft would increase aircraft fuel efficiency by more than 33 per cent over today's jet engines, by employing high-speed electric motors to drive aero-dynamically optimised turbo-fans.

Dr Rod Badcock and his team now want to take their tech to the next step, and develop a motor for a Boeing 737-sized passenger plane, using an electric drive-train to connect high-speed electric motors with a fuel-powered generator running at maximum efficiency

A superconducting motor would deliver the all-important power-to-weight ratio.

The institute's work on high temperature superconductors has also led to a myriad of other potential applications, including high-speed trains, large wind generators, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems.

Badcock has pointed out the benefit that cleaner aviation could have for New Zealand, which relied on airlines to serve its tourism and high-value export industries.

Not only would a step-change help meet a pledged 30 per cent improvement in aircraft efficiencies by 2035, but would save the country around $276 million each year in fuel, Badcock said.