World’s first “eHighway” for electrified trucks to be trialled in California

A truck-clogged traffic artery leading to the Port of Los Angeles will be the testing ground for the world’s first "eHighway" – a stretch of road strung with overhead cables to power heavy vehicles that will coast along without burning diesel and spouting fumes.

The catenary infrastructure will be installed by Siemens along a two-mile stretch of Alameda Street in Carson, California. Up to four Mack trucks will be adapted to hook up to the system with current collectors, or pantographs, similar to those on trams or electrified trains. 

On normal roads the trucks burn diesel or natural gas but, when they hit the eHighway, sensors locate the overhead cables and the trucks automatically connect. The system lets trucks change lanes to overtake other vehicles at speeds of up to 90km/h. Siemens claims that the eHighway system is about twice as efficient as burning diesel, and is emissions-free. The trucks’ braking systems also feed energy back into the grid.

Siemens was selected by California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to install the system because around 35,000 trucks grind through Carson every day to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two busiest ports in the US. Traffic is expected to increase almost threefold by 2035, so authorities are looking for zero-emission solutions.

"Southern California’s air pollution is so severe that it needs, among other strategies, zero- and near-zero emission goods movement technologies to achieve clean air standards," said Barry Wallerstein, SCAQMD’s executive officer.

The technology will be tested on Alameda Street until mid-2016, with help from Volvo Group’s Mack Trucks and power conversion specialist Transpower. If it works, authorities will consider installing the system on the much busier I-710 highway, a kilometre to the east.

Southern California’s air pollution is so severe that it needs zero-emission goods movement technologies– Barry Wallerstein, South Coast Air Quality Management District

Siemens started working on the eHighway system in 2011 as part of a research project, funded by the German government, into an all-embracing truck electrification concept. Scania, the Swedish heavy vehicle maker, and the Technical University of Dresden were also involved. The research looked at integrating pantographs into trucks’ drive systems and the traffic control systems that an eHighway would require.

Siemens has built a test track in Gross Doelln, Germany, to mirror real operating conditions, including bends in the road. 

The trial in Carson will be the first eHighway test on a public road anywhere in the world, but Siemens is also interested in Sweden as a market for the concept. The Swedish government has said it wants a vehicle fleet free of fossil fuels by 2030. Last year, Siemens and Scania launched a joint development to integrate Siemens power supply technology with Scania’s HGVs and buses. "This makes Sweden a very interesting market for us," said Siemens head of infrastructure and cities, Göran Persson. Siemens said Sweden may be the first country in the world to have electric-powered HGVs and eHighways for commercial use.

Photograph: Siemens’ "eHighway" test track in Gross Doelln, Germany, mirrors real operating conditions, including bends in the road (Siemens)

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  1. Great innovation well done Siemens and well done California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) for taking the initiative.

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