'Solves that wicked last-mile'
One way to curb freight emissions: Put trucks on an electric catenary system
12/11/2017 Megan Geuss
[images / Siemens
Three trucks equipped with pantographs (that's what those things are
called!) will be used on the test highway.
Here, the pantograph connects to the catenary
The trucks run much like a trolley car, but they can hop off the line
Truck drivers can manually disconnect from the catenary to pass other trucks
on the line if necessary
The one-mile stretch of highway goes northbound and southbound
A system like this could make air quality better around ports
A one-mile stretch of highway in Los Angeles will be used to test the idea.
Trucks hauling freight from ports emit a lot of greenhouse gases—in fact,
freight is the number one source of smog-related emissions in the Los
Angeles area—and projected US growth rates mean that by mid-century, those
emissions could double unless something is done to control them. Daimler,
Cummins, Tesla, and others have promised various models of electric
freight-hauling trucks, but none of those models are quite yet ready for
prime time (with the exception of Daimler’s trucks, which are only meant for
smaller, shorter hauls).
But the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) office in Los
Angeles, not keen on waiting for a private company to perfect an electric
vehicle solution, has reached out to Siemens to help it build a test
“eHighway” in Carson, California, near the Port of Long Beach, the
second-busiest seaport in the United States. The eHighway uses electrified
catenary lines along a stretch of road that trucks can connect to for
electric power—exactly like trolley or light rail lines that offer electric
public transportation in a multitude of cities today. The difference,
however, is that the trucks don’t run on a rail, and they can disconnect
from the catenary and run on independent engines when they get to the end of
The idea solves that wicked “last mile” problem that a lot of well-meaning
public infrastructure projects face: whatever you’re transporting, systems
like public rail lines, airports, and tunnels often still require the user
to travel a bit further off the main lines to reach their destination, which
can cause delays or extra costs associated with loading, unloading, or
storage of freight.
The eHighway built by Siemens and SCAQMD is for now just a test road. It’s
only one mile long, and the system only has three freight trucks that can
pair with the catenary system—a battery electric truck, a natural-gas
hybrid-electric truck, and a diesel-hybrid truck. The battery-electric and
natural gas trucks were developed by a company called TransPower, and the
diesel hybrid was developed by Volvo-owned Mack Trucks.
Each truck is able to connect to the electric wires above the highway with
rooftop rods just like a trolley car (the riser on top of the trucks and
trolleys is called a "pantograph"). According to a Siemens press release,
“The pantograph can connect and disconnect automatically with the contact
line via a sensor system while the trucks are moving. This allows the
eHighway trucks to easily switch lanes or pass other vehicles without being
permanently fixed to the overhead systems like a streetcar.”
When the trucks are connected to the catenary, they release zero emissions.
When the eHighway ends, the trucks revert to their internally fueled engine
to drive the rest of the way.
The traction power substation that supplies the eHighway can provide up to
1MW of power, according to North America Head of Siemens Rail
Electrification Andreas Thon. But Thon told Ars that how much power the
system actually requires depends on the number and size of the trucks
running at the same time.
The eHighway system will only be electrified while the company is performing
tests, and the testing phase will continue until the end of the year.
“Discussions are currently being held on next steps,” Thon said, “but in the
meantime, the team will work to gather and compile the data and findings of
The project cost $13.5 million to build with a wide variety of stakeholders
contributing, including China Shipping with $4 million, the California
Energy Commission with $3 million, SCAQMD with $2.5 million, and both the
Port of Long Beach and LA Metro with $2 million each.
[© Condé Nast UK]
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