What is an e-highway?

First of all I will tell you what it’s not – its nothing to do with email or the internet! An e-highway, ehighway or electric highway is a modified section of highway (or motorway in the UK) for the use of electric vehicles, principally heavy goods vehicles (HGV). 

But we already have electric vehicles? I hear you cry. Yes, there are electric vehicles and HGV’s available at the moment but they are often let down by two major points:

  1. Range – how far they can travel on a single charge
  2. Charging Time and Availability – Can you get to, and use, an appropriate charging point and how long will it take to recharge the batteries

These points seriously hinder the application of electric vehicles for the freight industry in which heavy loads are required to travel over varying distances. So how do they get round it? By providing a constant supply of electricity via over head power lines. 

The beauty of an e-highway is it can be created by modifying existing road networks with an over-head electric supply, not unlike the old electric trams or bumper cars from the fair! The electric supply wires are suspended from poles and boom arms over the slow (HGV) lanes on the highway. The modified hybrid-electric trucks and vehicles feature a pantograph pick-up arm that makes contact with the over-head wires providing a constant supply of electricity for the vehicles electric motors. 

This form of electrically-augmented road is the most cost effective to implement as it uses the existing infrastructure and simply adds to it. Other forms of electric-highway do exist, such as electrified rails fitted into the road itself or electromagnetic coil systems. The major downside to these are the roads need to be modified for their installation. Exposed rails always have a risk of electrocution and electromagnetic coils require costly induction pickup equipment on the vehicle. 

So is this system being used? 

Yes, but it’s not widespread, yet. Like with all new systems they need to be spearheaded and supported to be successful. The German automotive company, Siemens, in partnership with Swedish truck makers, Scania, made the worlds first public e-highway a reality in Sweden. The specially designed trucks feature hybrid drive technology so they can drive on non-electrified roads and a dynamic charging infrastructure for when they are. Pilot projects of the Siemens system are expected to be installed at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, USA with an aim to reduce smog in California. India is also planning to build a separate e-highway on the 1,300-kilometre-long Delhi-Mumbai Expressway.

So what are the benefits of e-highways?

The environmental benefits are substantial – while using the e-highway the trucks are 100% electric, zero-emission, meaning a dramatic reduction in fossil fuel usage and the associated CO2 emissions. As fuel isn’t being consumed this provides a substantial fuel cost saving to the freight carrier. A definite win-win situation that provides an economical and sustainable alternative to typical road freight transport.

*Images Siemens.

So is it the answer?

Maybe not the answer but it is another possible and viable solution to reduce costs and the environmental impact of transport. Along long stretches of highway or near busy ports it would be ideal and I’m sure the residents living near these highways would welcome the cleaner air and the reduction is engine noise. Is it a perfect solution? no but it is another zero-emission option which is the important thing.

Published by A Kennedy

An award winning, UK based, International Logistics Manager for a multinational tool company. Over 25 years experience in international logistics and supply chain management. Elected ‘Chartered Status’ by the CILT and ‘Expert Status’ by the IoSCM.

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