New study to consider electrifying UK motorways

An eHighway in Germany (Sonja Filitz, Shutterstock)

BRITAIN’S main roads could be electrified by 2030 with Heriot-Watt University set to begin a study on the European eHighways concept.

The system allows for specially-adapted HGVs to attach to overhead wires and run using electricity in a similar fashion to train systems.

The trucks are equipped with a battery that charges whilst they are in motion to allow them to detach to overtake other vehicles and reach their final destination with zero emissions from start to finish.

In collaboration with the University of Cambridge, the Edinburgh-based university will run a nine-month study on a stretch of the M180 for a future eHighways demonstrator. The partners plan to take the lessons learned from elsewhere in Europe, where similar projects are already underway.

Professor Phil Greening, deputy director of the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, the joint initiative between the two universities, said, “Making sure that the electric road system (ERS) fulfils the needs of the logistics sector is vitally important if we are to achieve a rapid transition to net zero. Heriot-Watt’s expertise in building virtual worlds allows us to use computer models to make sure the preferred solution is future-proofed and fit for purpose.”

In the UK Government’s own transport decarbonisation plan, it identifies the road freight industry as in need of innovation. To aid this effort, the Siemens Mobility eHighway technology has been proposed by the consortium as the fastest, lowest carbon and most cost-effective route to decarbonising the road freight industry and delivering cleaner air.Professor David Cebon, director of the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, added, “Our previous research says that overhead catenary power will provide the lowest cost, lowest carbon, and most rapidly deployable solution to decarbonise long-haul road freight in the UK. This project will test the concept at the next level of detail. Moreover, the technologies this consortium is working on could be deployed in most countries once demonstrated, supporting the global move towards greener logistics.”
A fully-operational electric road system across the UK would be expected to create ‘tens of thousands’ of jobs across a range of green industries, with around 200,000 new electric trucks needing to be built over a 10-15 year period. The universities said this would also provide an opportunity to ‘completely revamp’ the UK truck manufacturing industry and its supply chain.