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An electric highway is now powering delivery trucks in Germany

As part of efforts to reduce air pollution caused by diesel-powered delivery trucks, engineering giant Siemens and heavy-vehicle maker Scania teamed up on a project several years ago to make greener vehicles.

The pair came up with a hybrid truck that draws power from overhead electric lines fitted along a regular highway, making it similar to systems long-used by many trams and trains.

To adapt it for trucks, Siemens created an extendable power coupler that automatically extends from the top of the vehicle to connect to the electric lines when sensors detect their presence.

Besides being kinder to the environment, such a system also has the potential to save businesses much time and money: The trucks don’t need to make any stops to recharge their batteries, which also eliminates the need to build and maintain charging stations.

The so-called eHighway made its debut in Germany on Tuesday, May 7, on a busy 6.2-mile (10 km) stretch of road just south of Frankfurt.

Other trials of the technology have already taken place in Sweden and Los Angeles, though on much shorter stretches of road.

In Germany, transportation officials are hoping that positive data from its first eHighway will allow it to introduce the technology to other major roads in the country.

Trucks equipped with Siemen’s technology operate emission-free when using electricity from the overhead lines. On roads without power lines, they can use energy stored by onboard batteries, switching to diesel power only if it runs out.

It’s worth noting that the trucks can maintain a steady speed when coupling with the power lines, ensuring the smooth flow of traffic. If a truck comes up against a much slower vehicle while on the eHighway, the coupler can disconnect for overtaking and then automatically reconnect when it returns to the lane with the overhead lines.

Siemens unveiled the first version of its eHighway in 2012 as a green solution for large commercial trucks. At the time, battery technology wasn’t up to the job of powering heavy-duty vehicles across large distances, but technological advances, coupled with growing interest in electric trucks from the likes of Volvo, Daimler, and Tesla, will leave some wondering if Siemens’ system offers an effective long-term solution.

The German company claims its eHighway is “twice as efficient compared to internal combustion engines” and therefore can help to cut energy consumption and reduce local air pollution.

Germany is aiming to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050, and is eyeing 2030 as a cutoff date for new sales of vehicles with gas- and diesel-powered engines. Siemens’ eHighway, if it’s installed on more roads across the country, could also play its part in helping the nation to hit its green targets.

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