Technology

Electric highways are transforming the transportation industry

Robin van den Berg describes the use of electric highways and weighs their strengths and weaknesses over other climate-friendly alternatives.

The transportation sector is under global surveillance as it seeks ways to reduce the high levels of harmful emissions that are currently occurring. Battery electricity and hydrogen power are the most discussed alternatives to internal combustion engine (ICE) trucks, but there is a third option currently being tried in Frankfurt, Germany.

The system, backed by Siemens, Autobahn GmbH, truck maker Traton and others, is surprisingly simple and employs well-established technology used in trams. The hardware effectively turns the truck into an electric tram. Above the truck cabin is a set of electrical contacts, like those on a tram. These connect to wires suspended on the road.

Trucks that use electric highways are cheaper, lighter, and do not require refueling, but this system requires significant costly changes to public infrastructure.

When a truck connects to a contact, it can draw electricity directly from the grid to power the on-board electric motor. When the truck’s diesel engine is disengaged, the wagon becomes a zero-emission carrier. The advantage of this system is that it does not require cutting-edge technology.

The jury is still on battery-powered electric vehicles and hydrogen-powered trucks, but this electrified road system has already been effectively proven in that it is used in trams and trains. Moreover, this is not the first test of its kind. Similar tests were conducted in Sweden, Los Angeles, and other parts of Germany.

The first German electric road test truck near Frankfurt with a catenary overhead line was fully operational in 2020 with five Scania R450 hybrid trucks equipped with pantographs.

To cope with climate change, trucks must have zero emissions.According to the numbers shared by Transportation and environment, Trucking accounts for 22% of all CO2 produced by the transport sector. Keep in mind that only 2% of vehicles on the road are trucks. Their emissions and their impact on the environment are disproportionately large. To be sure, any way to reduce emissions in the truck sector is good. Battery electricity, overhead electricity, and even hydrogen power all have the potential to reach this goal.

Battery trucks do not require any infrastructure changes, but they are expensive, take a long time to charge, and add extra wear to the road. Hydrogen trucks are as lightweight as traditional wagons and can be refueled in minutes, but hydrogen production is neither easy nor cheap. Trucks that use electric highways are cheaper, lighter, and do not require refueling, but this system requires significant costly changes to public infrastructure.

The advantage of this system is that it does not require cutting-edge technology.

Currently, we do not know if this test in Germany will succeed. Battery technology and green hydrogen infrastructure have improved, but they are not at the stage of service demand.

The system that proves its value in terms of cost efficiency will ultimately be the one of choice by industry and politicians. Currently, the German government has not given much information about the progress of the test. What it says is that they will determine which technology will reign supreme within four years. Currently, there seems to be an advantage in fictitious transmission lines.


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Automotive World Ltd.

Robin van den Berg TomTom EV Product Manager

The Automotive World Comment column is open to decision makers and influencers in the automotive industry. If you would like to post a comment, please contact editorial @ automotiveworld.com.

https://www.automotiveworld.com/articles/electric-motorways-will-transform-the-haulage-industry/ Electric highways are transforming the transportation industry

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