Scania Starts Trials of Electric Trucks Fed by Overhead Power Lines in Sweden

When it comes to moving large amounts of freight from one part of a country to another, companies usually have to choose between road or rail.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages: trains can carry a huge amount of freight, can be powered entirely by electricity, but aren’t practical for final-mile deliveries. Trucks on the other hand, are far more versatile in the places they can travel, are better suited to smaller loads, and can provide final-mile deliveries absolutely anywhere. Their biggest drawback? They’re fuelled by particulate-producing, heavily-polluting, expensive-to-fuel diesel engines.

Scania G 360 4x2 with pantograph, electrically powered truck at the Siemens eHighway.  Gross Dölln, Germany Photo: Dan Boman 2013

Scania G 360 4×2 with pantograph, electrically powered truck at the Siemens eHighway.
Gross Dölln, Germany
Photo: Dan Boman 2013

But come February next year, Swedish truck maker Scania will begin testing a brand-new truck on a two-kilometre stretch of road between the Port of Gävle and town of Storvik along European highway 16. It might not be capable of long-distance travel as its diesel-powered siblings are, but it offers a clever compromise that could one day make zero carbon freight transportation — or dramatically carbon-reduced freight — a reality.

That’s because the prototype electric hybrid truck is equipped with an overhead pantograph allowing it to feed off an overhead power line, using that electricity to operate in electric-only mode along the specially-named Gävle Electric Road.

It’s a similar system to the one used by tens of thousands of electric trains, trams and trolly busses around the world today, and when combined with an efficient diesel engine, can dramatically improve overall emissions without taking away the key advantage a truck has over a train: the ability to go anywhere.

The project, funded by the Swedish Government to the tune of SEK 77 million and supplemented by SEK 48 million in funding from the local region and local businesses, will use the two kilometre stretch of electric road to investigate how practical the system is in the real world. For the past two years, Scania has been conducting research into the system on a closed track at its research facility near Berlin, Germany, but the Gävle Electric Road will be the first time it has operated trucks in the real world using such a system.

So far, Scania’s tests predicts that using hybrid electric trucks fitted with overhead pantographs rather than pure diesel trucks could reduce fossil fuel emissions by between 80 and 90 percent in some cases, since the trucks would only operate in fossil-fuel mode when exiting major routes fitted with electric cantilevers.

“The potential fuel savings through electrification are considerable and the technology can become a cornerstone for fossil-free road transport services,” said Scania researcher Nils-Gunnar Vågstedt, who leads the Electric Road project. “Electric roads are also a way to develop more eco-friendly transport services by using the existing road network.”

In the case of the Gävle Electric Road, trucks will be using the electric overhead cables to transfer goods the short distance from port to town. A similar project being carried out by Scania and partners between the port of Los Angeles and Long Beach California will duplicate the experiment in the U.S. But while both routes are currently operating over short distances, the end-game of this project could be revolutionary.

Here’s why.

The trucks have so far been tested successfully in Germany a Scania's test facility.  Gross Dölln, Germany Photo: Dan Boman 2013

The trucks have so far been tested successfully in Germany a Scania’s test facility.
Gross Dölln, Germany
Photo: Dan Boman 2013

Because of the limitations of modern battery technology, fully-electric battery-powered trucks are only viable in urban environments, where daily use cycles totals around 100 miles per day and recharging is not a problem. That’s because in order to provide the power needed to haul the heaviest loads over hundreds of miles, trucks would need to devote a large portion of their cab and possibly trailer to battery storage.

Cantilever technology allows trucks to operate as electric vehicles without requiring them to carry large amounts of batteries on-board. Instead, trucks can prioritise electric power where overhead power lines exist while relying on internal combustion engine where it is not available. One day, it may even be possible for some routes to employ all-electric trucks powered by overhead power lines for the majority of their duty cycle while having a small on-board battery pack good for 40 miles or so of electric operation on roads where power lines do not exist.

As battery technology improves, the same overhead power system could be used to allow electric trucks to recharge for longer battery electric operation away from major routes, using the cantilever to receive power on major highways and recharge its battery packs at the same time, but for now, the hybrid powertrain option is a great stepping stone, especially as between 30 and 40 percent of all road-based carbon emissions come from the transportation of freight from one place to another.

Is this the future of trucking?

Is this the future of trucking?

When combined with clean, all-electric rail transportation, this project — if successful — could help relegate smelly diesel-burning big rigs to all but the most inaccessible of places.

And we think that’s a very good thing.

Are cantilever trucks the future of freight transportation? Or are there problems that prevent it from scaling in large countries with literally millions of miles of empty freeways to electrify? Are you a trucker who welcomes the idea or is cautious?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


Want to keep up with the latest news in evolving transport? Don’t forget to follow Transport Evolved on Twitter, like us on Facebook and G+, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInDigg thisShare on RedditEmail this to someonePin on Pinterest

Related News

  • Isn’t this basically your April Fools article from a couple of years ago come true?

    It’s an interesting idea and might help keep these heavy goods vehicles to the inside lane, too!

  • Joe Viocoe

    I am not sure how to feel about this.

  • BEP

    Very interesting.

  • cros13

    I don’t think this is a good idea, too much infrastructure for too little benefit.

    While BEV are the future for passenger vehicles I reckon the future for HGVs is a small battery (for regen braking), electric motors and a lower-temperature methane fuel cell.
    While still mainly being based on a fossil fuel it would use it much more efficiently without combustion byproducts.
    Methane also has high energy density and unlike Hydrogen we have an existing distribution infrastructure.
    You could also add in Methane from renewable sources over time without having to change the fleet.

    • Mindbreaker

      The beauty of electric is that nuclear power can power the system. Rail should also be electric but that is another topic. I foresee this for buses and campers as well.

      There is an air quality issue. Diesel emissions are every bit as harmful as gasoline emissions…probably worse. But trucking companies and unions have blocked any studies of it, because they do not want emissions regulated. It can get very bad. Areas in LA, or San Diego near the Mexican boarder are terrible. Any other cities with significant freight from ports or boarder crossings would also be inundated with the exhaust.

      As far as stop gap for cars, biobutanol is the best choice. It has energy density very much like gasoline unlike most of the other would-be replacements. At most, a computer software update would be required. Of course we would have to mandate that auto companies update the software. They won’t do it on their own because they would love obsolescence…that sells more cars. But most cars can just run on it as is just fine today. And it can be made with biomass fermentation using the A.B.E. process.

      Fuel cells are terrible. The extra components leave cars unsafe with negligible usable crumple zones to absorb impacts. They are very high cost. And the hydrogen leaking issues are formidable. Low temperature methane fuel cell? We would need 10 pounds of platinum per car. If we could buy low temperature methane fuel cells, that worked, most people would have already put them in their homes to generate electricity.

  • vdiv

    So if the truck veers a bit to the left/right wouldn’t one of the pantographs short the catenary wires? 🙂

    • JohnCBriggs

      We have electric busses in in Massachusetts, and no that does not happen. The bus can move one complete lane to the side and the pantograph still works.
      They can even pull the pantograph down and drive away (presumably on battery power).

      • vdiv

        Trolley poles are attached to the catenary wire, they have a u-shaped graphite collectors so the bus can change lanes while the poles swing and stay attached to the corresponding wire. This is not the case with this trial which requires wider collectors for a higher speed. The collectors are probably narrower than the distance between the wires, however that imposes limits on how much the wires can swing towards one another and how much freedom the truck has to move and attach/detach from them at speed.

        At the end of the day an electrified train track probably makes more sense.

        • JohnCBriggs

          Thanks for the education.
          Looking at their literature more closely. It seems like the overhead wires are automatically detected and the pantograph deployed and retracted automatically. The driver does not need to worry about it. If he needs to pass someone, he can pull into another lane, the pantograph retracts, the hybrid system kicks in, all automatically. When he later moves back under the wires, the pantograph is deployed again.

  • Martin

    A battery- catenary hybrid need not have wires all the way even on major routes. Longer hills when going up and some flat sections would be suficent to run and charge the batteries for the gaps. I could see perhaps only 50% of a route needing wires in flat country and perhaps a bit more in hilly areas.

  • Pingback: Scania Starts Trials of Electric Trucks Fed by Overhead Power Lines in Sweden | Shorepower Technologies()