An electrifying story from Germany, where they are wiring the autobahn.
Electric trucks are a wonderful idea, but batteries are heavy, expensive and carbon-intensive. However there is another technology that's been around for over a century: overhead trolley wires. Trolley buses are still used in many cities, which can work effectively because buses follow fixed routes.
Now a test is being done in Germany with hybrid electric-diesel trolleytrucks. They run on electricity from overhead wires on the autobahn, and then switch to diesel when they get off the highway. According to DW,
The test trucks are fitted with batteries and pantographs — sensor-fitted electric pickups — that reach automatically for the overhead cables (poled positive and negative) slung from several hundred masts along the A5's inner-most lanes, even under bridges. Overtaking of other vehicles is intended as well as surplus power being fed back into the grid during braking manoeuvers, according to Hesse Mobil.
It's a shame about the diesel engines, but they could eventually be all-electric with batteries powering the last mile. If the test is a success, it is estimated that 80 percent of Germany's truck traffic could be electrified. Then trucks would be charging their batteries while they are in the wired sections, needing much smaller battery packs than in the proposed Tesla or Nicola battery powered trucks.
The biggest problem with trolleys has always been the ugly overhead wires, but that's not as big a deal out on the highway. Another problem has been the inability to pass, but making them hybrid or having batteries solves that problem. The final question is whether the source of electricity is carbon-free, which is an issue in Germany right now.
In the past I have wondered why the goal shouldn't be to carry more freight by rail and reduce the need for trucks, but according to DW, the German rail network is already overloaded. So this is a great alternative for carbon-free shipping.
Trolleytrucks are still in use in some parts of the world; they are cheap to operate and easy to maintain. If we are going to electrify everything, perhaps it's time to bring them back.