Back to the Future with eHighway Trucks

Carbon emissions and local air pollution are set to greatly reduce through innovation in road freight transport: electrification is the way to go. Siemens has been testing out a new eHighway system to reduce transport's impact on the environment.

Autor*in Annalisa Dorigo, 05.24.16

Carbon emissions and local air pollution are set to greatly reduce through innovation in road freight transport: electrification is the way to go. Siemens has been testing out a new eHighway system to reduce transport’s impact on the environment.

According to the European Commission, not only do carbon emissions from road transport currently account for about one fifth of all carbon emissions in Europe, but road transport is the only sector in the EU in which greenhouse gas emissions have been rising. And with a 400 per cent increase in global road freight forecast over the coming forty years, the call to reduce greenhouse gas emission from freight transport is an urgent one.

In order to reduce energy consumption in the road freight transport sector and to help alleviate local air pollution, German engineering company Siemens has been developing technology that supplies road freight trucks with power from overhead electricity cables.

Siemens eHighway innovation, which the company began developing in 2011, is set to halve trucks’ energy consumption (and carbon emissions), while also improving local air pollution. The technology consists of three main components:

  1. Overhead contact lines that are installed alongside busy motorway freight transport routes – such as in industrial and port areas, and mining regions – and constantly supplied with electric energy by substations located at intervals along the motorway route;
  2. A pantograph, a retractable element that connects the truck to the overhead lines: this either happens automatically when overhead lines are detected, or can be done manually, at the push of a button. And while the pantograph is flexible enough to allow for a certain degree of non-straight driving, it will automatically disconnect when the indicators are used, or in case of more evasive manouevres;
  3. Hybrid drive technology, enabling trucks to automatically switch to internal combustion, battery or fuel cell drive, when overhead contact lines are not available, or, for example, when changing lanes or overtaking.

According to Siemens, whenever trucks are connected to the cable, they do not produce any local emissions, with the eHighway system purportedly 80 per cent more efficient than diesel trucks. Further, the technology allows for the vehicles’ braking energy to also be recovered and fed back into the overhead lines.

A demonstration project has been running near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in the US, while a second demonstration project was launched in June 2016 along a two-kilometre section of a highway in an industrial area north of Stockholm.  Siemens is also currently working with the German Environment Ministry to set up a further two tests along 12-kilometre stretches of road in the German states of Hesse and Schleswig-Holstein by the end of 2018. (For another e-mobility pilot project focusing on cars see here).

This is a fantastic development for road freight transport, and one which could not come any sooner; however to ensure that air pollution is not simply relocalised from the motorways to the power plant area, both overhead lines and trucks hybrid engines will need to rely on renewable energy at the source. In our transition towards zero emissions transport, engineering solutions will need to be firmly embedded within a broader renewable energy policy focus and renewable energy technology support.

Here’s how it all works:

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