Catenary for less polluting road transport?

What if we made highways electric to reduce pollution? While various solutions are being explored to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Germany is testing overhead lines for trucks. These are undoubtedly the most polluting vehicles in road traffic.

Electrify highways

In general, road transport an ecological disaster, more than air transport, which is most often criticized. A French government publication in February 2021 indicated that in 2019 heavy goods vehicles (trucks, buses and coaches) will be no less than 22% of greenhouse gas emissions of the transport sector. However, this type of gear accounts for only 2% of vehicles in traffic.

If some manufacturers and other companies such as Daimler, Nikola or Volvo are working on trucks carrying hydrogen fuel cells, another solution is electrify the roads. An experiment is currently underway on several highways near Frankfurt (Germany), according to a press release from Siemens on July 29, 2021.

The idea is to supply trucks in the same way as trains. It is indeed a matter of supplying them with power use an overhead line located above the road. The trucks carry a pantograph which, rubbing against the overhead wires, will supply the vehicles.

electric highway truck 1
Credit: Siemens

Despite many advantages, an important obstacle

The advantages of this device called eHighway are many. After all, trucks can drive with their original engine (conventional or electric) and when entering the highway, activate their pantograph. The goal is simple: make the journey on the highway without polluting. Moreover, in the case of electric trucks, battery power is quite possible with this system. By charging while driving on the highway, these vehicles could don’t have to stop in a charging station throughout their journey, saving valuable time.

For the time being, the tests only concern sections of the highway, each extending over a length of distance is 5 km. According to Siemens, the aim is to evaluate the effectiveness of this system for freight companies, whose trucks regularly travel back and forth in the Frankfurt area. In addition, a feasibility study suggests that the strategic installation of 4,000 km overhead lines could cover no less than 60% of car traffic in Germany.

Siemens has set up this project with the German highway management agency (Autobahn GmbH) and Traton, parent company of the manufacturers Scania, MAN and Navistar. The only obstacle to this company is no other the significant investment in infrastructure. However, the German government, which will have to undertake this investment, is still reluctant to take the plunge. Finally, the project initiators want to eventually expand the concept to all of Europe and so on standardize the practice across the continent.