Electric passenger cars are trying to go wireless, with inductive charging technology. Meanwhile, electric truck brands are looking to go the opposite route and add more wires in order to achieve increased pure-electric range.
This week the German state Hesse revealed its first six-mile stretch of eHighway — power lines are strung above a road to which electrified trucks can tap in for extended all-electric, emissions-free driving.
The technology isn’t necessarily new. You’ve probably seen public buses and trains utilizing a similar system. The tech was adapted for semi-trucks by the Siemens corporation in 2016, and dubbed it ‘eHighway.’ Essentially, the truck is fitted with antennae called pantographs. These extend upwards and drag along power lines above.
When the connection is made, electricity flows from the lines down into the truck’s batteries. That energy is sent to the electric motor that drives the truck forward. Upon disconnecting from the eHighway, the truck’s internal combustion engine fires up and it operates like a traditional hybrid.
Hesse partnered with Volkswagen Group’s Scania truck brand to produce a hybrid semi capable of utilizing the eHighway. This latest six-mile stretch will be tested by the German government until 2022. At which time, it will weigh broader expansion of the tech.
Siemens believes that if Germany were to implement eHighway tech nationwide, it would prevent the release of 6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Furthermore, an average 40-ton truck traveling 62,000 miles a year on the eHighway would save $22,000 per year in fuel costs.
The only catch to trucks operating on the eHighway is that they’re limited to a 90 kilometers-per-hour (56 miles per hour) top speed. So, cruising on the eHighway will take longer than rolling on a conventional freeway.
Although this is Germany’s first implementation of the eHighway tech, it’s not the world’s first. In 2016, Sweden installed its own 1.6-mile stretch. And in 2017, a section of freeway between Los Angeles and Long Beach, California was outfitted with eHighway lines.
It’s plausible that this kind of system could be applied to passenger cars. However, that would require fitting cars with huge pantographs, which seems not only like a design conundrum but also liability. Likely, car owners would prefer to just charge while stationary than deal with that.
Personally, I love the idea of outfitting semis with pantographs, like the streetcars and light-rail systems throughout the country. There’s no reason why trucks should have to be fitted with huge, heavy, and incredibly expensive lithium-ion battery packs just so they can drive emissions-free. Save the cost and weight and just allow them to drive electrically by tapping into overhead electricity.
They are already driving along major highways anyway. So it’s not like we’d have to retrofit every major roadway. When off the freeway, trucks could just run on hybrid power. And, heck, we could switch the internal combustion engines in semis from burning diesel to run on cleaner-burning natural gas, which would be another ecological boon.
I really think, given the cost and weight of converting our nation’s trucks to pure-electric power, that an eHighway/hybrid system is the most reasonable alternative. Hopefully, it expands beyond these few test markets.