Germany is currently testing the country’s first eHighway on a stretch of autobahn near Frankfurt, more specifically on a section of the A5 highway between Langen and Weiterstadt. The project has been named Elisa (electrified, innovative heavy traffic on the autobahn) and allows for testing of overhead line hybrid trucks (OH trucks) in real-time traffic. The Federal Ministry for the Environment has already spent a whopping €14.6 million on construction of the pilot project, and has set aside another €15.3 million for testing until the end of 2022. Partners of the eHighway project also include the Technical University Darmstadt, Siemens Mobility GmbH and ENTEGA AG.
The specially designed trucks use hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) technology instead of combustion engines and can be charged as they drive beneath the installed overhead wires. The overhead power lines have been installed in both directions for 5 kilometers. Once the trucks are charged they can continue to run on battery, and when the battery is depleted they’ll switch seamlessly back to diesel.
Ultimately, the goal of this trial is to collect data on the potential positive or negative effects of the project. The Technical University of Darmstadt will research whether or not the pollution is decreased and how the eHighway affects other traffic on the autobahn. Since the OH trucks don’t need to slow down to dock / undock from the overhead lines, the project managers don’t believe highway traffic will be negatively affected.
“Electrified overhead line trucks are a particularly efficient solution on the way to climate-neutral freight transport,” commented Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU). “We’ve tested the system for many years on private test routes. We’re now inaugurating practical tests on the A5 autobahn between Frankfurt and Darmstadt, and two further test stretches will follow in the states of Schleswig-Holstein and BadenWürttemberg.”
Sweden boasts the world’s first eHighway, and a demonstration of the OH truck system ran in California, USA in 2018. It’s not yet clear if the investment will be worth it for Germany, but it’s an interesting and worthwhile effort to investigate methods to improve on truck-based shipping that cannot be switched to rail or alternative modes of transport.