Siemens Launches First Zero-Emission, Trolley-Style Electric Highway in the US

With its zero-emission electric highway demonstration — the first of its kind in the US — Siemens aims to reduce the smog-creating emissions from heavy-duty trucks in southern California, the area’s number one source of air pollution.

The project creates a one-mile, trolley-style highway for heavy-duty trucks in Carson, near the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

electric highway

Siemens’ electric highway demonstration

Trucks retrofitted to run on the e-highway are equipped with an active pantograph located on top of the trucks. The eHighway sends electricity from overhead lines to the truck’s electric motors so they can run on zero-emission power. The trucks travel on outer lanes that can also be used by other types of vehicles.

The eHighway allows the trucks to easily join and leave the system, using 100 percent electricity when they’re connected to the highway. When disconnected, the trucks use an electric-hybrid drive system, which can be powered either by diesel, compressed natural gas (CNG), battery or other energy sources, said Andreas Thon, head of turnkey projects and electrification, North America for Siemens.

Global carbon dioxide emissions from road freight traffic are expected to more than double by 2050, said Thon.

The heavy-duty trucks are twice as efficient as traditional trucks powered by diesel, he said. “The efficiency comes from the electric motor,” he said.

Three kinds of trucks are used on the e-highway: one is full electric and two are hybrids, he said. “The trucks are fully electric when connected. It’s like a streetcar.”

Charging as you go

Siemens partnered with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) on the project, which employs an overhead catenary system that feeds electricity to the trucks in much the same way a trolley or streetcar operates. “It’s a way of providing electricity to the truck and at the same time charging as you go,” said Thon.

The catenary system makes more sense than using fully electric trucks, which are big and heavy; they’d require large numbers of huge batteries in order to drive long distance, explained Thon.

The project aligns with Southern California Edison’s (SCE) proposal “The Clean Power and Electrification Pathway” and with its position supporting a zero-emission freight corridor, according to SCE.

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Only retrofitted trucks are able to connect with the pantograph and use the eHighway. “It’s not intended to connect to a car but for heavy-duty trucks,” said Thon.

The eHighway is installed near the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports so that it can be used for shuttling goods. “Nowadays there’s heavy traffic in these areas, and trucks are diesel and gas operated,” said Thon. “The idea is to go electric on this mode of transport.”

Electric highway projects elsewhere

A demonstration eHighway project (not on a public road) has been up and running since 2010 in Berlin. At this time, it’s being installed on a 5-mile section of public highway. “We will demonstrate the feasibility on German highways,” said Thon.

Siemens launched the world’s first eHighway system on public roads in Sweden in June 2016. The eHighway is running on a 1.2-mile section of a highway north of Stockholm through 2018. The project runs two biodiesel hybrid vehicles.

Funding for the $13.5 million southern California project came from a number of sources, with $2.5 million from SCAQMD, and $4 million from a settlement with China Shipping.

The California Energy Commission provided $3 million, and $2 million came from the Port of Long Beach and $2 million from LA Metro. In addition, Siemens supplied a $1.3 million in-kind contribution. The US EPA is providing $500,000.

Accommodating new freight

Trains can handle only one-third of the expected new freight travel that threatens to boost CO2 emmissions, according to Siemens. The eHighway system can accommodate the additional freight travel, cut emissions and help keep the ports competitive, Thon said.

In addition to being more efficient than diesel trucks, the electric highway is expected to reduce truck operating costs because electric trucks require less maintenance, he said.

“The aim of this specific project is to demonstrate the eHighway system applied in truck operation on public roads in an urban U.S. setting and to further prepare applications for larger scale initiatives in the future,” said a press release from Siemens.

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