Imagine this. You’re driving a hybrid truck, barrelling along one of Germany’s famous autobahns just shy of 60 mph. You merge into a lane that features 670-volt overhead cables and press a button on your dashboard, causing conductor rods (pantographs) to emerge from the roof of the cabin, extend upwards, and connect with the cables.
Your truck is now running on electricity alone and your battery is being charged simultaneously. Braking reverses the flow of electricity, helping power other vehicles connected to the overhead cables and feeding power back into the network.
At a cost of €14 million, Germany’s environment ministry has turned this futuristic-sounding concept into a reality with the debut of a 6-mile stretch of “eHighway” near Frankfurt, developed in partnership with Siemens. A further €70 million have been spent in the development of a special hybrid truck designed to run along this eHighway.
“The inauguration of Germany’s first eHighway in Hesse marks a milestone in the decarbonization of road freight transport in the country," said Siemens Mobility Chief Technology Officer Roland Edel. "The Siemens Mobility innovation combines the advantages of electrified rail lines with the flexibility of road freight transport, thus offering an efficient, economical and environmentally compatible alternative to truck transport with combustion engines."
The program, driven by Germany’s ambitious 2050 target of a 95% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions compared with 1990 levels, is expected to save 6 million tons of CO2 emissions per year if 30% of truck traffic on German highways is electrified. A report from Germany’s transportation ministry says that up to 80% of the country’s truck traffic may soon become electrified.
According to a report by Siemens’ Mobility Division, “transport remains the last sector where fossil fuel dependency has not been substantially mitigated”. Improving the efficiency and cutting emissions of road transport is seen as essential – and, with this technology, achievable.
Hybrid trucks will save €20,000 (US$22,400) in fuel per 62,100 miles. A video from Siemens demonstrates how the trucks switch back to their hybrid engines when they detach and re-join the normal highway.
Two other eHighways are currently being built in Germany, while Siemens has also trialed the technology in Sweden (2016) and California (2017). Future uses for the eHighway technology include:
- electrified shuttle transport for roads with a high volume of truck transportation, such as the connections between ports and logistics centers
- electrified mine transport
- electrified long-haul transport
Image Credit: Siemens Mobility