Plans go ahead to assess potential of UK’s first e-highway

02 August 2021 by Jack Porter
blog author

The UK’s first ever study on the electrification of long-distance trucks has been given the go-ahead.

The Department for Transport, through Innovate UK, has commissioned a consortium to assess the potential of the UK’s first electric road system – or e-highway.

The consortium, headed up by Costain, will lead the study this month, which forms part of the government’s plan to reach net zero emissions for heavy road freight.

The nine-month study is part of the £20m reserved for zero emission road freight trials under the recently announced Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP) and aims to demonstrate the technology is ready for a national roll-out.

It will look at the electrification of long-range trucks with dynamic charging, using overhead wires on motorways to assess the economic and technical capability.   

New diesel and petrol lorries will be banned in Britain by 2040 as part of plans to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, putting lorry firms under pressure.

A fully operational electric road system across the UK should create tens of thousands of green jobs, with around 200,000 new electric trucks needing to be built over a 10–15-year period.

The study was awarded based on the consortium expertise in sustainable transport, which includes Siemens Mobility, Scania, The Centre for Sustainable Road Freight (Cambridge University and Heriot-Watt University), ARUP, Milne Research, SPL Powerlines, CI Planning, BOX ENERGI and Possible. 

Sue Kershaw, Managing Director of Transportation at Costain, said: “This study is another important step towards understanding how industry could work together to tackle one of the largest carbon emission producers in the country and create a cleaner, greener and more efficient road freight network across the UK.

“Bringing our heritage in complex programme delivery and expertise in integrating technology to this consortium is part of our Climate Change Action Plan to implement change and create a green transport future through collaboration.” 

Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) emit 18 percent of CO2 emissions from vehicles on the road, despite only representing 1.2 percent of the total number of vehicles on the road. Despite this, the new plan refers to HGVs as “critical to our economic wellbeing,” transporting 98 percent of our food, consumer and agricultural products across the country.

The consortium has proposed an ‘electric road system’, using the Siemens Mobility ‘e-highway’ technology, as the fastest, lowest carbon and most cost-effective way to decarbonise the road freight industry and reduce air pollution.

E-highways work by allowing specially adapted trucks to attach to overhead wires and run using the electricity, like rail and trolley-bus systems. The trucks are equipped with a battery that charges while they are in motion so they can detach to both overtake vehicles and reach their destination with zero emissions from start to finish.  

The UK initiative is the first in the world to investigate deploying the e-highway concept at a much larger scale, while consortium members Siemens Mobility, Scania and SPL have previously trialled smaller electric road systems in Germany and Sweden.

The project will look at electrifying at least 19 miles of the M180 as the pilot, linking Immingham Port with the logistics hubs of Doncaster and its airport.

It will provide the opportunity to revamp the UK truck manufacturing industry and supply chains, futureproofing it by accelerating fleet digitalisation.

Research by the consortium has found the electrification infrastructure would pay back investors in 15 years. 

William Wilson, CEO of Siemens Mobility Limited said: “Investing in proven technologies like e-highways can help us go further and faster to decarbonise the UK’s transport network, and support jobs and growth to level up the country.  By building on successful trials from other countries like Germany, our ERS consortium M180 trial will help the UK move a step closer to replacing more polluting trucks with clean, efficient electric HGVs.” 

James Armstrong, Managing Director for Scania Great Britain Ltd, said: “Electrifying road freight is key in the UK’s journey to zero net emissions. We have been working with our partners to develop and mature the e-highway technologies and have demonstrated that they are not only viable but attractive, cost-effective alternatives to fossil fuel-based vehicles for our customers.”