Trucks, those road going behemoths that spew millions of tons of diesel related junk into the air every year, are essential to the global economy. If it’s in your home, it probably spent some time being hauled by truck from the factory to the store where you bought it.
Many believe electric trucks could give the environment a much needed break from all that pollution. But the problem is, a battery large enough to move an 80,000 lb truck 500 miles would weigh 23 tons. Fuel cells aren’t the answer, either. A hydrogen fuel tank large enough power a fully loaded truck that far would cost $2,000,000, according to Quartz. Embedding wireless charging coils in roadways would be hugely expensive, too.
Siemens thinks it has a better idea, and it’s one that goes all the way back to the 1870’s — providing electricity via overhead wires. It made its proposal at the EVS 29 electric vehicle conference in Montreal last week. So-called catenary systems have been powering trains and street cars for over 100 years.
But the Siemens idea has a twist to it. Instead of running wires continuously, it would incorporate a smaller lithium ion battery onboard electric trucks. The battery would be charged by the overhead wires, then the trucks would drive on battery power until the next segment of overhead wires is available.
The technology is ready to go, Siemens says. New advances in catenary systems allow hybrid vehicles to switch seamlessly between overhead charging and battery power at high-speeds. It thinks its system could power all the trucks in Germany using only 4,000 kilometers of wires.
The other advantage of the system is the electric trucks would have enough battery power to drive from the nearest highway into cities without the need of overhead wires. Initially, the trucks would be diesel electric hybrids, but as the system is developed and battery technology advances, trucks would be able to switch over to battery power alone. The system would cost a fraction the price of alternatives like hydrogen fuel cells, and deliver as much as $227 billion in net savings over 30 years compared with other approaches, reports IDTechEx, which attended the presentation.
Siemans, joined by Volvo, Scania, and several national and local governments, is already starting field trials. Sweden launched the first such trucks on public roads on June 22 with its E15 test highway north of Stockholm.
The idea is obviously a compromise solution. Ideally, all trucks would be powered by electricity, but that won’t happen until 2050 or so. The earth simply can’t wait that long for technology to start eliminating the transportation emissions that are poisoning our atmosphere. The Siemens proposal may be just what we need to dramatically reduce heavy truck emissions now while we continue the search for better solutions in the future.