Anyone who loves slot cars or electric vehicles will rejoice at this news. Sweden just opened a stretch of highway that powers an electric test truck the same way a slot car works - by transferring electricity from a rail in the road through a charging arm that drops down into the slot in the road.
The Swedish Transport Administration aims to go carbon neutral by 2050, and the first section of electrified road is a step in that direction. The eRoadArlanda project offers to make range anxiety a thing of the past as trucks, buses, and even cars can get a steady feed of power while they are going down the road.
Like a slot car track, the rail runs right down the middle of the lane. Existing battery powered vehicles can be retrofitted with the charging arm, allowing the infrastructure to be used without big investments in new equipment. The contact senses when it is above the rail and lowers itself into position. If the rail ends or the vehicle veers to overtake or turn off, the contact arm automatically raises.
Power feeds through the rail only when a vehicle has tapped into the slot, and the rail can measure how much power is delivered, so that the owner of the vehicle can be charged for what is used. The design also protects people and animals from accidental shocks and the slots are narrow enough that even a racing bicycle can travel on the road without fear of getting stuck.
To keep the rail functional in bad weather, a patented de-icing method has been tested successfully. Drainage points manage heavy rains and a special plow attachments is envisioned in case of snow accumulation.
Sweden already operates the first electrified highways, relying on cables above the road similar to an electric tram. But the slot-car rail offers several advantages over above-traffic cables:
- The rail can be used by cars in addition to tall vehicles like trucks and buses
- The rails don't obstruct oversized loads
- The scenic drive can be enjoyed without a web of cables disturbing the view.
The team behind the project estimates that 20,000 km of Swedish roadways could be electrified for 80 billion SEK (approx. US$475K or 385K Euro per kilometer) which starts to make financial sense for the future of electrified roads. Looked at another way, the cost of electrified roads has about a three-year payback based on savings for fossil fuel costs relative to the cost of electricity.
Only key sections of road would have to be electrified and vehicle batteries could take over for travel on the rest of the infrastructure. And planned expansions in wind power capacity already cover the additional demand in the case that every car in Sweden would be electric.
Successful testing of the electrified slot-car road will add another boost to Sweden's cleantech success as the technology will certainly be interesting to countries committed to weening themselves off of fossil fuels. Now that's what we call an infrastructure project!