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E-highways could reduce UK trucking emissions

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A new report suggests that CO2 emissions from road freight could be eliminated in the UK by installing overhead charging cables for electric trucks.

The report by the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight argues that the so-called Electric Road System (ERS) would cost £19.3 billion, be completed by late 2030s, and have paid for itself within 15 years.   

The overhead cables, writes The Guardian, which are powered by the national electricity grid, would link to trucks travelling on 4,300 miles of UK roads. These cables would power the truck’s electric motor and recharge an on-board battery which would be used to get the vehicle to its destination beyond the e-highway.

According to the report: “Under some reasonable pricing scenarios, the revenues could be sufficient to entirely replace the current fuel tax levied on HGVs.”

Similar systems can be seen on electric trains and trials have already been carried out by engineering company Siemens and truck manufacturer Scania on roads in Germany, Sweden and the US.

Officials from the UK were due to visit Germany’s test sites in March, but the trip was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to government figures, the UK’s road freight sector was responsible for 5% of the country’s CO2 emissions in 2018 – making it the largest contributor to the climate crisis.

While electric trucks and vans are viable alternatives for short-haul deliveries, long-haul deliveries have been hard to decarbonise. The lithium ion batteries used in electric cars cannot deliver the distances required, meaning multiple batteries would be required for long journeys – raising the cost in the process.

However, a truck using electric highways would only need a battery the size of those used in a Tesla car, and would still be able to cover the majority of the UK.

The report states that the first phase – electrifying the busiest roads – would take two years and cost £5.6 billion. This alone would cover nearly one third of the miles travelled by trucks in the UK. Later phases would bring the total cost up to £19.3 billion.

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