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  • The autobahn meets the e-highway

    The German state of Schleswig-Holstein says it will pioneer a 6km stretch of electronic highway by the end of 2018. As part of its efforts to reduce the environmental impact of goods being transported by road, it says it will dedicate part of the A1 motorway between Reinfeld and Lübeck to be used by lorries powered by electricity via overhead cables.

    The test is being funded by Germany’s environment ministry, which is keen to establish an ‘e-highway’ to maintain road mobility without the need for fossil fuels. Recently, the German and Swedish governments established a joint partnership to promote the uptake of e-highways. The volume of goods being transported by road is increasing, and with trucks set to maintain the vast majority of freight volumes in Europe, the federal and state governments are looking for ways to reduce the environmental footprint of road haulage.

    Lorries powered by electricity had previously been considered viable for urban transport only, but overhead cables will offer scope for heavier trucks covering longer distances while research into hybrid lorries has been in progress in various countries for some time. One of the aspects that will be tested will be the ease with which hybrid trucks can switch between electric and diesel power for stretches with and without overhead power lines. A recent report by the German Environment Agency estimates e-highways would be more cost-effective than hydrogen or power-to-liquid to decarbonise the trucking sector. This is because only the busiest parts of the highway system need to be fitted with catenary lines. However, there are concerns about the feasibility of the EU-wide roll out of the e-higway system as well as its compatibility with rail freight, which is a key pillar of a sustainable surface freight transport system.

    A second test stretch in another German state, Hessen, is expected to follow shortly after the Schleswig-Holstein test, or even at the same time.