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California’s ‘electric highway’ set to open

The world’s first ‘electric highway’ is set to open in California, with trucks using overhead cables for power along a stretch of road in Carson.

The trial near the Port of Los Angeles will be the first time freight traffic has driven on a public road with current collectors.

The overhead electricity cables have been installed by engineering giant Siemens, and will allow up to four test trucks to be supplied with electricity in both directions.

They will travel along the 3km-long ‘eHighway’ system without producing any emissions.

This section of road between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is used by around 35,000 every day, and with traffic along the route expected to increase almost threefold by 2035, the port authorities are keen to find a zero-emission transportation solution, according to Siemens. California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District will examine whether the eHighway system is suitable for commercial use.

The technology will be trialled until mid-2016.

Siemens is running the project in cooperation with Volvo Group’s Mack Trucks subsidiary and the energy technology firm Transpower.

The eHighway system is described as “an energy-efficient, low-emission solution that was developed… for heavily used truck shuttle routes”.

The system features overhead cables for roads, and electric or hybrid trucks fitted with intelligent current collectors. Sensors on the vehicles’ roofs recognise whether there is an overhead cable and can automatically connect or disconnect the truck from the cable.

They also enable the trucks to change lanes in order to overtake other vehicles at speeds of up to 90km/h. The trucks do not produce any local emissions if an overhead cable is available.

On conventional stretches of road, the trucks switch to diesel, natural gas, or battery-electric operation, depending on the drive system they are equipped with.

Siemens says the eHighway system is “about twice as efficient as a diesel truck” and that “overhead cables transmit electricity with 99% efficiency”.

The concept has been in development since 2011. The technology was trialled using diesel-electric on a test track in Groß Dölln, Germany (see photo gallery above).

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