Many of us have come across a train or bus that takes advantage of overhead power lines, pantographs stretched upwards, providing the vehicle in question with the electricity needed to continue on. Now, the first eHighways in Germany will help electrified trucks roll down the highway without contributing to air pollution.
The German state of Hesse on Tuesday opened its first stretch of eHighway, featuring overhead power lines meant to deliver charge to electrified trucks as they travel. It’s still in the pilot phase, covering just a six-mile stretch of autobahn near Frankfurt, but it will function with normal traffic operating around the trucks that can take advantage of the tech. It’ll stay there until 2022, at which point the German government will determine whether to expand the project’s scope.
It works just like the overhead power lines you’re used to seeing on other methods of transportation. An electrified truck extends conductor rods to the power lines, creating a connection where power can flow from the lines to the truck’s batteries, giving it enough juice to operate on electricity alone. Once the car disconnects from the system, its hybrid system will function like normal. It’s worth noting that the trucks need to be moving no faster than 90 kilometers per hour (about 56 mph) to take advantage of the power. Of course, not every truck comes equipped with the hardware to make this work, so Germany partnered with VW Group to build a hybrid truck specifically for the eHighway.
Siemens, the company behind the eHighway tech, says there are huge benefits to this system. It said that, if 30 percent of trucks on German highways were electrified and relied on renewable energy, the country could avoid dumping an extra 6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. On a less macro and more micro scale, Siemens says a 40-ton truck driving 100,000 kilometers (about 62,000 miles) on the eHighway could save 20,000 euro (about $22,000) in annual fuel costs.
Siemens has been working on eHighway tech since at least 2012, when it showed off the system at the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Los Angeles. In 2016, Sweden implemented eHighway’s setup on a 1.2-mile stretch of highway. The following year, Siemens installed an eHighway in California, between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. It would be mighty tricky to get cars on the same system, because height discrepancies between trucks and cars would require the latter to have some properly long (and properly dangerous) pantographs.