Scania shows just how heavy trucks and buses can be realistically powered by electricity
Sixty percent of truck emissions in Germany are produced on just two percent of the nation’s roadways: the autobahns . Wouldn’t it make perfect sense to put clean trucks to use on these superhighways? The truck maker Scania has come up with an idea that could turn this concept into a reality: with the help of overhead lines and hybrid trucks. The idea has a number of strengths. And it is already working well in the real world. The company is using a stretch of motorway in Sweden to demonstrate how heavy trucks could come clean.
The two-kilometer-long test segment is located near Gävle, a small town in central Sweden. The two-lane E16 has been outfitted with an overhead contact line like those used by trains. An old technology modified to meet modern needs. Two thick sets of wires stretch at a height of about six meters over the right lane on the highway. No vehicles are hindered by the addition to the road. Most car and truck drivers will hardly notice it at all anyway. But the installation will certainly not be overlooked by hybrid trucks made by Scania. And for good reason: The trucks can draw their power from the overhead line. A pantograph installed on the vehicle’s cab automatically rises while the vehicle is traveling at full speed. The power flows once the pantograph touches the wiring. The 40-ton vehicle then shuts off its diesel engine and cruises along emission free.
“Such an e-highways costs one-tenth of a new rail line.”
Positive environmental effect
“Such an e-highways costs one-tenth of a new rail line,” says Christer Thorén, the head of the Scania project. But this is far from the system’s only strengths, Thorén adds: “Initially, you could electrify individual stretches of highway where particularly large amounts of emissions are produced. You could then expand it step by step.” This would quickly have a positive environmental effect without requiring immediate gigantic investments. If one third of trucks were electrified, Germany could lower its CO2 emissions by 6 million tons a year.
As you can see, there are good reasons to employ electrically powered trucks. But a tractor-trailer will not get very far without a consistent supply of power. A 60-ton electric vehicle would have to haul around a 30-ton battery. The workaround is called hybrid: The battery only supports the engine. As a result, it is much smaller than the batteries used in fully electric trucks. Diesel-fuel consumption is reduced by up to 25 percent in such vehicles. In addition, such a truck can travel at least a few kilometers on electric power, that is, cleanly and quietly.
Scania began selling hybrid trucks in 2016, and the demand among haulage companies is huge. “The operating costs are much lower than those of totally diesel vehicles,” Thoren says. “What’s more, such trucks can operate at night in cities – because they are so quiet.” For companies, these benefits have a direct impact on the bottom line.
The project is also being closely followed by observers in Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently joined Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven in signing a partnership agreement on e-highways. Within the next years, stretches of highways in a number of German regions are to be electrified .
But it is not just costs that are propelling the development of electric trucks. The technology has also caught the eye of public transport: Electric vehicles make less noise and do not smell. This is why increasing numbers of cities have become interested in electric buses. The pacesetter is China, where 200,000 e-buses are already in operation. Most of these buses were made by domestic companies. Scania’s latest project is pointed in this direction: inductive charging stations at the bus stop. In Södertälje, the Swedish city where the company is based, you can see how this innovation works in real life.
Once a bus on Line 755 reaches its final stop at Astrabacken, the driver will park the Scania vehicle over a concrete plate in the ground. An induction loop is installed there. The battery will then be charged with the help of an electro-magnetic field. The process takes just a few minutes. Afterward, the hybrid bus can set off on its next quiet journey through town. The benefit: The bus does not have to head to the garage when the battery runs down. The exact time that the bus needs for the route is already known. As a result, the bus will load only the amount of power it needs to complete the next route. The entire process takes just a few minutes. The bus can then hit the road again – quietly, cleanly and pleasantly.