The e-highway project, which would see trucks fitted with pantograph technology similar to that seen on the tops of electric trains, has been suggested by the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight (SRF), following successful trials of the technology by Scania in Germany.
These trucks would then follow overhead catenary cables, powered by the national grid, which would in turn both power the vehicles’ electric motors and recharge an onboard battery, providing continued power once the trucks moved beyond the electrified road system.
According to a summary of a white paper published by SRF, “building a network of overhead catenary cables along 7,500 km of the UK’s major road network would electrify approximately 65 per cent of HGV kms, at an estimated cost of £19.3bn. It is technically viable, economically attractive and could be achieved by the late 2030s.
”When combined with battery electrification of urban delivery vehicles, this ‘electric road’ network would almost completely decarbonise UK road freight.
“The investment by vehicle owners in the pantograph electric vehicles could be paid back in 18 months, through lower energy costs. This would ensure rapid take-up by the road haulage industry.” SRF goes on to predict that the electrification infrastructure “could payback its investors in 15 years, through the profit margin on electricity sales”, making it a “unique opportunity for private finance”.
It added: “The improved energy efficiency of the freight system would create sufficient financial headroom for substantial government revenues through an electricity excise tax, road user charge or some other form of tax. Under some reasonable pricing scenarios, the revenues could be sufficient to entirely replace the current fuel tax levied on HGVs.”
But Isaac Occhipinti, head of external affairs at the Gas Vehicle Network (GVN), said: “It makes no sense to embark on a costly and unsightly project like this when gas as a transport fuel is already operating and delivering carbon and costs savings.
“Clean, low carbon, renewable gas powered vehicles are the obvious, sustainable solution for the freight and transport industry. GVN statistics show that in 2019 almost 80 per cent of the total dispensed volume of gas for transport fuel was biomethane – a renewable and sustainable low carbon fuel – a 22 per cent increase from 2018.
“By switching from diesel to renewable biomethane gas, fleet operators could see savings of up to £29,000 per year, approximately 52 per cent. In addition, with biomethane, net CO2 emissions could be cut by over 84 per cent.”
“It is becoming increasingly clear that biomethane as a transport fuel can, and will deliver substantial financial and carbon savings for fleet managers and government as they adopt low carbon, renewable gas powered heavy vehicle transport.”
At the time of the announcement of Scania’s involvement in the German research in 2018, Claes Erixon, executve vice president for research and development at Scania, said: “For long-haulage transport, Scania sees electric roads as one promising technology for a sustainable transport future. Vehicle electrification is developing quickly and with its environmental, social and cost benefits, it will play an important role in the shift to a fossil-free transport system.”
Later that year, Magnus Höglund, head of electric road system at Scania, said: “Unlike passenger cars, which remain parked and stationary most of the day, trucks are deployed for long hours in transport assignments when stopping to charge can be highly disruptive in the operations. E-highways offer rational and effective charging en route. The solution also saves batteries and reduces load on the energy network.”