Could tram-style trucks make haulage green?

26-08-2021 |   |  By Robin Mitchell

A proposal has been made to partly electrify the M180 near Lincolnshire so that electric trucks can trial their effectiveness. What challenges do electric vehicles present trucks, what does the proposal suggest, and could it be the answer to reducing emissions from large vehicles?


What challenges do electric systems pose to trucks?


There is no shortage of research into EV development, and this has paid off with the increasing availability of EVs and charging points. While current EV technology is ideal for passenger vehicles, it is far from ideal for larger vehicles such as trucks used for hauling goods.

One of the significant benefits of fossil fuels is their high energy density which directly translates to a reduction in weight. When applied to trucks, it is often the case that increasing the tonnage of a large vehicle requires an increased size of the fuel tank to extend the range, but supporting hardware for this increased tank size is minimal. If the fuel tank is not increased in size, then the truck simply makes more refuelling stops.

Batteries, however, are a very different story. Simply put, batteries are nowhere near as efficient as fossil fuel regarding weight, with an approximate figure of 1KG of petrol being equivalent to 20KG of batteries. Thus, when scaling up these figures to a vehicle the size of a truck, it is found that a typical truck would require a 16-ton battery.



Such a heavy battery is problematic as vehicles on the road have weight limits they have to comply with. This means that an EV truck would be able to carry less than the equivalent fossil fuel truck, therefore, reducing its profit margin significantly.


Lincolnshire EV Tram proposal announced


Recently, a joint proposal from Scania, Siemens, and Costain has been put forward to the UK government to electrify a two-mile stretch of the M180. The idea is to create hybrid trucks that use a fossil fuel engine and electric motor, which use the fossil fuel engine during regular routes and then switch over to an electric motor when on the motorway.

But, the new system being developed comes with a usual design twist; it borrows from electric trams. There is nothing new about electric trams, and these have been around since the early 1900s. The new trucks will utilize overhead electric cables with a pantograph (i.e. an arm connecting the overhead wires to deliver electrical power).

Such trucks have already been prototyped by Seimens and other manufactures, and their practicality has been proven. However, such an experiment has not been done in the UK, and if approved, could see the installation of electric systems spanning the country.


Are tram-like trucks a solution for reducing emissions?


Of all proposed systems for reducing emissions, a hybrid tram-like truck has got to be the most practical solution. Firstly, the technology is already widely used by trains and trams alike, meaning that there is no need to develop the energy delivery system.

Secondly, the use of a hybrid system removes the need for trucks to use heavy batteries. This also removes their need to charge while using electrical power on long stretches of road. Using overhead cables to provide power allows the trucks to draw as much energy as they require without worrying about battery condition.

Thirdly, having trucks switch over to electrical cables during long stretches of their journey would significantly reduce emissions from the haulage industry. Most of a truck’s journey moves along motorways (long-distance lorries), and having this section of a journey electric removes any emissions generated by the truck’s engine.

Fourthly, traffic safety could be significantly improved as large trucks would be forced to drive in the electrified lane. A truck moving out of this lane would switch back to using fuel, which would be noted by the employer of the truck. Keeping trucks in their own lanes prevents accidents caused by trucks crossing lanes, not checking blind spots, and keeping large vehicles away from potential pile-ups.


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By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.

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