Expert consortium awarded funding to investigate ‘electrifiying’ UK motorways


The Department for Transport (DfT) has awarded funding to a consortium that will lead the UK’s first ever study on the electrification of long-range trucks with dynamic charging, using overhead wires on motorways.

The study is part of the £20m (US$28m) put aside for zero emission road freight trials under the recently-announced Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP). The funding, which was awarded through Innovate UK, was allocated based on the consortium’s expertise in sustainable transport. The consortium includes Siemens Mobility, Scania, Costain, The Centre for Sustainable Road Freight (Cambridge University and Heriot-Watt University), ARUP, Milne Research, SPL Powerlines, CI Planning, BOX ENERGI and Possible.

Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) currently emit 18% of all road vehicle CO2 emissions, despite only representing 1.2% of the total number of vehicles on the road and 5% of the total miles driven. They are, however, essential to the UK economy. The TDP cites them as “critical to our economic wellbeing,” transporting 98% of our food, consumer and agricultural products across the country. Due to the limits of existing technology, the plan says “removing [road freight]emissions requires the development and deployment of clean technologies.”

The consortium has proposed an ‘electric road system’, using the Siemens Mobility ‘eHighway’ technology, as the fastest, lowest carbon and most cost-effective route to decarbonizing our road freight industry and delivering cleaner air. The nine-month study kicks off this month, and is hoped to be the forerunner of a scheme that aims to see the UK’s major roads served by overhead lines by the 2030s. These eHighways enable specially-adapted trucks to attach to the overhead wires and run using the electricity, similar to rail and trolley-bus systems. The trucks come equipped with a battery that charges while they are in motion so they can detach to both overtake vehicles and reach their final destination with zero emissions from start to finish.

Consortium members Siemens Mobility, Scania and SPL have previously trialled smaller electric road systems in Germany and Sweden, but this UK initiative is the first in the world to investigate deploying it at a much larger scale. The project will look at electrifying at least 30km (19 miles) of the M180 as the pilot, linking Immingham Port with the logistics hubs of Doncaster and its airport. The partners plan to take the lessons learned from Europe, and provide technical, economic and environmental recommendations for installing a proof-of-concept system with a bigger demonstration fleet.

A fully-operational electric road system across the UK would be expected to create tens of thousands of jobs across a range of green industries, with around 200,000 new electric trucks needing to be built over a 10-15 year period. This will also provide an opportunity to completely revamp the UK truck manufacturing industry and its supply chains, future-proofing it by accelerating fleet digitalisation; a key lesson learned across the industry as it recovers from the 2020 pandemic’s disruption.

Research by the consortium has even found that initial investments into new vehicles by operators could be recouped within 18 months, due to lower energy costs, and the electrification infrastructure would pay back investors in 15 years.

“Investing in proven technologies like eHighways can help us go further and faster to decarbonize the UK’s transport network, and support jobs and growth to level up the country,” says William Wilson, CEO of Siemens Mobility, speaking on behalf of the consortium. “By building on successful trials from other countries like Germany, our ERS consortium M180 trial will help the UK move a step closer to replacing more polluting trucks with clean, efficient electric HGVs.”

“We’re delighted this consortium is bringing its extensive experience to solve challenges around decarbonizing HGVs by planning to demonstrate this technology at scale on UK roads,” says Alistair Barnes, innovation lead for zero emission vehicles at Innovate UK. “Innovate UK is proud to be supporting this project as part of its partnership with the Department for Transport.”

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Lauren is a regular contributor to Traffic Technology International (TTi) and a freelance technical journalist. Over the past 15 years, she has worked on a wide variety of B2B publications and websites, including a stint as deputy editor of Traffic Technology International from 2014-2016. She has a degree in English from the University of Exeter. Lauren is mum to two busy little girls. She is always in demand!