Hybrid trucks in Germany can now charge as they drive down a six-mile stretch of the autobahn near Frankfurt, thanks to the country’s first installation of Siemens’ “eHighway,” Bloomberg reports.
The concept works similarly to trams. The truck’s battery charges via an overhead catenary system with a pantograph that automatically raises and lowers at the appropriate times. It works up to 55 miles per hour. Trucks can still depart the lane to overtake another vehicle if needed, but obviously wouldn’t be charging while doing so.
The eHighway project dates back to 2010, with a trial on a test track in Berlin. From there, Siemens (of self-driving Mustang fame) has also deployed limited tests on port roads in Carson, CA and in central Sweden. The six-mile route near Frankfurt is the longest so far.
Although six miles along the autobahn would only net a few minutes of charging time, there’s huge potential for such a system deployed strategically along major commercial routes, which would dramatically expand the benefits of hybrid (or even all-electric) truck fleets. On the company’s website about the project, Siemens says it can deploy 4,000 kilometers (about 2,500 miles) of overhead wires along the autobahn for 11 percent of the country’s tuck toll revenue, which would both save trucking companies in fuel costs and significantly reduce emissions.
Those benefits—especially the environmental ones—are badly needed. According to the European Environment Agency, heavy duty trucks account for 18.9 percent of the transportation sector’s CO2 emissions in the EU.
The overhead charging system sounds promising, but don’t expect to see wires criss-crossing the U.S. interstate system any time soon; even on the Frankfurt test track, there will only be five trucks equipped with the system by 2020.