Since 2012, there have been talks about a so-called eHighway in Germany, in collaboration with the German global technology powerhouse, Siemens. Now becoming a reality, the state of Hesse will be home to Germany’s first-of-its-kind eHighway for heavy transport and trucks. Trials will be running soon in preparation for its debut by the end of 2018.

“Construction of the system will demonstrate the feasibility of integrating overhead contact systems with a public highway,” said Gerd Riegelhuth, Head of Transport of Hessen Mobil. “The system will be used for real transport networks, and prove the practicality of climate-neutral freight transport in the urban region of Frankfurt.”

Green truck utilizing highway overhead contact system

Truck utilizing overhead contact system. Courtesy of Siemens

The eHighway will be comprised of an overhead contact line for electrified freight transport on a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) stretch of Germany’s esteemed autobahn and will supply electricity for hybrid trucks. The system will be installed on the A5 federal autobahn between the Zeppelinheim/Cargo City Süd interchange at the Frankfurt Airport and the Darmstadt/Weiterstadt interchange.

The main purpose behind this monumental project is to cut down on the highway’s carbon footprint. Chief Technology Officer of the Mobility Division, Roland Edel, describes the project as an “economically viable solution” for climate-neutral freight road transportation.

On top of being emission-free, the trucks will also function better than their fossil fuel counterparts by running twice as efficient compared to combustion engine vehicles. The core element of the system is an active pantograph (mechanical linkage) combined with a hybrid drive system, which enables the trucks to automatically switch to a hybrid engine on roads without the overhead lines.

Siemens eHighway Infographics

eHighway Infographics. Courtesy of Siemens

However, ever since the start of the talks, proposals and pre-construction deals in 2012, there have been doubts circulating throughout the media. The renowned German magazine Spiegel published an opinion piece in 2012 by Christian Wüst where he describes the project as one of the most “tenacious[ly] dumb ideas within the automotive industry.”

He continues to write that the idea isn’t very innovative and isn’t exactly “pioneering,” as Edel announced. He argues that vehicles running on overhead lines proved their functionality long ago in the form of trolleybuses running on diesel engines.

“Siemens and [Germany’s Ministry for the Environment] would have trouble explaining the sense behind providing public funding for this research project,” he writes, revealing that the federal state is pumping over €2 million ($2.5 million) into it. “But the far more important question would be whether the large-scale wiring of highways with overhead lines makes environmental and economic sense.”