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Electric trucks of the future turn to the past to cut down on emissions

Why it matters to you

Large trucks are some of the biggest culprits for increasing emissions. Looking to the past has created a greener future for these trucks.

While the world is working to make transportation greener, delivery trucks remain part of the problem. With all the energy needed to carry those heavy loads, they are a big source of emissions. Yet, powering a delivery truck or an 18-wheeler with an electric battery isn’t very practical. As it turns out, a solution for the future involves looking back.

By stringing up electrical cables over the road, Siemens developed a hybrid truck that draws power from the cables like a trolley. Already this system has been going through testing in Gavle, Sweden. Now, the technology is making its way to a part of the 710 and 405 highways in Los Angeles.

“These trucks are pretty heavy, and need significant amounts of energy, which still isn’t available through battery technology,” Stefan Goeller, head of railway electrification at Siemens, told Wired.

During the trail, an extendable power coupler on the roof of the trucks links it to the lines hanging above the right lane. This provides a solid connection to the on-board battery. At just five-kilowatt hours, this little battery is a fraction of the 60-kilowatt battery in the Chevrolet Bolt. Essentially, the truck’s battery can push it for less than two miles without a connection. When a truck coasts or applies the brakes, the power regeneration doesn’t charge the battery, instead it goes back into the power grid through the coupler. If a driver needs to pass a slower vehicle ahead, flipping on the turn signal will retract the power coupler. Then, using diesel power, the passing truck can make its move.

Aside from reducing emissions, another added benefit is how much quieter the electric trucks are. The main downside is the tangle of wires installed above the roads. It’s a case of a bigger negative outweighing a smaller one.

“What we see quite often in our industry is that one technology never covers it all,” Goeller said.