In a move to fight emission from diesel-guzzling trucks, Germany has introduced an environment-friendly haulage system, starting with a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) ‘eHighway,’ with overhead electric lines to power its fleet of hybrid trucks.
Using special roof-mounted equipment, the trucks will be able to feed on power from the electrified lines and travel at speeds of up to 90 kilometers per hour (56 mph) on the dedicated stretch of the Autobahn.
Developed by Siemens, Volkswagen, and Swedish truck maker Scania, the system is being tested by a group of logistics companies in the real-world traffic scenario of the A5 between Langen/Mörfelden and Weiterstadt, one of Germany’s busiest sections of the Autobahn, south of Frankfurt in the state of Hesse.
The hybrid diesel-electric trucks developed for the multi-million-euro project are designed to run on an electric motor when traveling on the test stretch of the A5 and switch over to their diesel-powered hybrid engine when the situation demands.
A sensor-fitted pantograph on the roof of the trucks detect the presence of overhead cables and automatically extend upwards to make the all-important connection for the electric motor to take over.
Data collected from the test runs, which started on Tuesday (May 5), will be analyzed before the system can be fine-tuned for a country-wide implementation.
If all goes well, about eight percent of Germany’s Autobahn network could end up as eHighways.
Not only will they provide real-time power to the hybrids, but will also serve as charging areas for these trucks, thereby enabling them to carry on in battery mode even on non-electrified roads until there’s no more juice left in the tank; that’s when the hybrid diesel engine will take over.
The test phase alone has set the Environment Ministry back by a whopping €15 million ($16 million), not including the €14.6 million already spent on infrastructures such as masts, cables and electricity.
Powered by energy from renewable sources, the overhead cables run in both directions on the four-lane test stretch.
According to Siemens, the system is as efficient as electric rail and far more flexible, in that it can be integrated with the existing road infrastructure.
During the pilot phase of the project, which is expected to last until 2022, experts at the Technical University of Darmstadt will study the impact of the electrified Autobahn on regular traffic.
As the hybrid vehicles do not need to reduce speed while making or breaking the overhead connection, they will have no effect on the traffic flow, say the project developers.
The university, which is conveniently located near the test Autobahn, will also be able to determine whether the environmental benefits are substantial enough to justify the investment for an all-out expansion, as concerns over the cost to benefit ratio have been raised by certain quarters.
Hessian Motor Trade Association’s vice president Michael Kraft is not convinced about the economic viability of the system, saying that the vehicles are “only suitable for very specific requirements and will play a minor role in the long term,” reported the Hessenschau.
State secretary at the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter, is of the opinion that “electrified trucks are particularly efficient solution on the road to carbon-neutral transportation
The Hesse state eHighway project is the first of three pilots announced for the country, including the states of Schleswig-Holstein and Baden-Württemberg.
While construction of the test track in Schleswig-Holstein is already underway and expected to be completed within the year, work on the Baden-Württemberg track is yet to begin.