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Siemens electrifies trucks with trolley technology

At the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Los Angeles this week, Siemens announced its eHighway concept, which involves trucks powered by electricity from electric lines over the road.

Siemens eHighway
Siemens is testing its eHighway concept on a closed track in Europe.

City buses, streetcars, and regional rail lines all over the world run on electricity, garnered from overhead lines. Now Siemens wants to apply the same technology to long-haul trucking with its eHighway concept.

Siemens, an industrial and automotive supplier, contends that the majority of vehicle pollution comes from big diesel trucks transporting goods over many freeway and highway miles. Its eHighway would eliminate tailpipe pollution from these trucks for the majority of those miles.

On a test track in Europe, Siemens has been running trucks using its diesel-hybrid drive technology. Conductors on top of the trucks make contact with overhead electric lines. This electricity powers the trucks' electric drive motors, letting the diesel engines shut down. When the trucks leave the lanes with overhead wires, the diesel engine starts up.

In videos released demonstrating the concept, the conductors on top of the trucks rise or retract at the push of a button from the driver. A power control unit in the trucks senses when it is receiving electricity from the overhead lines, and shuts off the diesel engine.

The eHighway concept would designate a single lane of a freeway or highway for the overhead electrical lines. A truck equipped with the conductor and an appropriate electric drive system could move into the lane once it is on the highway, deploy the conductor, and drive without using a drop of diesel for many miles. Trucks could also leave the lane to pass slower traffic, and move back into the lane when it is clear. Once in the city where a delivery is to be made, the truck would switch back to diesel for the last miles.

Although it has been testing the system with its own diesel-hybrid drive systems, Siemens says the eHighway concept could work with any sort of hybrid or range-extended electric vehicle.

Merely a concept now, the system relies on existing technology. It would primarily take infrastructure investment to make it a reality. Pilot projects are planned for the Port of Los Angeles, and Long Beach, Calif.