The electrification of the road network may not be far away according to rail electrification systems designers.
Some of the busiest roads on the freight network could be fitted with overhead gantries and catenary systems, similar to those used for electric trains. They could be used to run trucks fitted with pantograph systems.
Speaking at the Bentley Infrastructure conference, Siemens head of rail electrification Elmar Zeiler said electrified trucks offered significant efficiencies and carbon savings advantages over diesel powered equivalents.
“It’s a big change to think about having an electrical system over roads,” said Zeiler. “It’s something we’re perhaps used to in cities for light rail, but not on roads to run trucks.
“The vision is to run this on main roads where you have significant volumes of freight traffic and you want to move from fossil based fuels to electric and save CO2. But not just this, all the other exhaust fumes, it’s all gone when you move to electric.”
Zeiler said sitting in an electrically powered truck when it was accelerating felt “like being in a formula 1 car”, as unlike diesel power the power was constant throughout its cycle. He added that electric trucks are almost silent.
Trials of the technology are already being conducted on 2km to 5km sections of public road in Sweden, Los Angeles in the United States and Germany. In these countries, trucks are hybrid powered allowing them to switch between traditional and electric power. Battery powered trucks capable of travelling between an electric road and a delivery point are also being examined.
The overhead wires vary from 4.5m to 5m above ground, similar to the clearance height of bridges Zeiler pointed out, and spacing of the gantries is around 50m to 70m depending on roadside obstructions.
The rail expert said truck companies had been receptive to the new technology and it was designing the pantograph so there was no loss in freight capacity.
To minimise safety risks, Zeiler said the technology was being developed on the same timescales as the roll out of autonomous vehicles and the two could be combined to ensure strict guiding systems were imposed on the trucks.
“In the future when the vehicles are going autonomously, you would have a very strict guiding system on the trucks and this is then part of this work,” he said.
“Even if there is a situation where you have to move fast from one lane to another then the system is smart enough to immediately recognise to take down the pantograph, depending on what the situation is.”
A full field trial is in the design phase in Germany to start in late 2018.