Are Electric Big-Rigs the Future of Trucking?
Sweden tests electric wire system that powers hybrid trucks
High-tech hybrid technology from the consumer automotive segment is taking hold in the commercial trucking sector with the introduction of diesel electric hybrid powertrains. Well, Sweden and tech giant Siemens is collaborating on something even more ambitious – trucks powered by overhead electrical wires on long-haul highways.
Yep, the future of semi-truck technology could look a lot like trolley cars from the 1900s.
Roland Edel, the Chief Technology Officer of Siemens Mobility said to gas2.org, “The eHighway is twice as efficient as internal combustion engines. This means that not only is energy consumption cut in half but also local air pollution is reduced. The electric hybrid is the first step on the road to electrically powered vehicles that will come to play an increasingly important role in the development of sustainable freight transport.”
The system works by using power lines strung 18 feet over the roadway, to which the compatible semi-trucks would connect, providing the truck with full power and allowing for a local emissions-free drive. The trucks employ a power-collecting antenna called a pantograph. It’s remotely raised to meet the wires when on the highway and lowered when traveling elsewhere under the truck’s own power. The trucks can reportedly travel up to 55 mph.
Sweden’s real-world testing includes a 1.2-mile section of roadway on the E16 highway near Gävel, with hopes of extending the cabling nearly 68 miles to Borlänge. Sweden’s tests follow extensive research by Siemens in Berlin, Germany with its collaborative partner, Scania. Scania is a Swedish automaker of heavy-duty trucks owned by Volkswagen.
This effort is part of Sweden’s goal of a fossil-fuel-free transportation system by 2030. The feasibility of this pantograph system and the infrastructure needed to support such a project has yet to be fully determined, but the project appears to be gaining momentum.
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Why It Matters
Reducing emissions in large trucks is a great way to cut total emissions across the entire automotive industry. These trucks often see countless hours on the road and tens of thousands of miles racked up annually, so reducing their emissions would likely go farther than the incremental steps we’ve seen in the past decade with consumer-grade vehicles. That’s no easy task, however.
Thankfully out-of-the-box thinking like this could help alleviate the problem. The issue then becomes a multi-part problem on funding and power supply. Who pays for the new power line infrastructure? Who pays for the new power plants needed? What type of fuel will these power plants burn?
Still, there are plenty of advantages once the initial problems are solved.
Such a system could potentially be used globally, even here in the U.S. In fact, the proliferation of self-driving, autonomous systems onboard semi-trucks could pair nicely with the advent of the pantograph network. To the joy and delight of drivers everywhere, this could limit semi-trucks to the right-most lane! Yep, no more slow-moving trucks trying to pass other slow-moving trucks up a mountain pass… in the fast lane.
Patience will certainly be needed as this pantograph system continues its development. It will likely take several years to prove the concept worthy of investment and time to convince investors on the validly of the system. If governments are involved – which they more certainly are – then red tape bureaucracy will surely provide yet another hurdle. Time will tell, but we’re definitely curious to see how this plays out.
Let us know what you think in the comments below. Would this system work in the U.S.?
Hat-tip to Jalopnik for the story