Electrification of mobility is nothing new - electric trolley buses still ply the streets of San Francisco and many other cities - 40,000 trolley buses are active globally.
But the dream of electrifying highways for car and truck transport has remained mostly in the Jetsons realm. As electric cars are starting to reach the mainstream, however, the vision of electrified highways has resurfaced, and Sweden is at the forefront. Volvo has been a proponent of a concept called 'continuous electric drive' in which your car would receive ongoing recharging from electrified pavement.
Now in Sweden, there's a fast-track plan to electrify a 62-mile stretch of road in the far northern reaches of the country, as an eco-friendly way to shuttle loads of iron ore in 'trolley dump trucks' between a new mine and a train depot. In Sweden (which still clings to the idea that it might become fossil-fuel free by 2030) 80% of carbon emissions come from goods transport.
Here's the two things that make this concept interesting: the 62-mile electrified road would be many times cheaper to deploy than building a two-lane railroad, and the trucks on the road would be able to travel much faster than current electric trolley buses and trucks.
A few distinct visions for how electrifying Swedish roads should happen are emerging. In one vision for electrifying Swedish truck transport, an intelligent connector on the top of the cabs that would be able to sense electrified overhead cables and retract or extend to receive charging automatically and easily avoid overpasses, etc.
From a report last year commissioned in part by the Swedish Energy Administration (Energimyndigheten) came the conclusion that using electric battery technology for long distance trucking will be difficult to make cost-effective due to the weight and cost of sufficient battery power - electrifying the roads to support hybrid electric trucks is considered a more reasonable option.
The one drawback of that vision for electrified highways in Sweden is that it is probably not suitable for private vehicles, due to the long distance between the intelligent connector and the roof of cars. But a group of engineers headed by Gunnar Asplund at Elways in Sweden are working on electrifying highways from below. Asplund plans to build a pilot track near the Stockholm airport to test his method.
The Swedish Traffic Administration will decide this June whether to start the fast-track highway electrification project near Pajala. The cost estimate for the highway electrification would be 2.5 billion Swedish crowns (US$ 367 million.)