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Could 'E-highways' slash UK road freight emissions?

A new study suggests that the UK could reduce its carbon dioxide emissions significantly from road freight by installing overhead charging cables for electric lorries on “e-highways” across the country.

While this electric road system would cost £19.3bn to install, the investment could pay for itself within 15 years, according to the report by the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight. In fact the report found that a first phase of building work on the busiest roads could take just two years to complete and cost around £5.6bn. In fact it could effectively cover almost a third of the miles travelled by heavy goods vehicles in the UK.

The system, powered by the national electricity grid, would link to lorries driving in the inside lanes on 4,300 miles of UK roads through an extendable rig – similar to those found on the top of electric trains.

Siemens and Scania have already carried out extensive tests of e-highway electric road systems in Germany and Sweden, and earlier this year - prior to the Covid-19 pandemic - UK government official were due to visit Germany to look at the technology in more detail.

According to the report, an electric road system would have a major advantage over alternatives in that it would be possible to tax the electricity used by lorries, enabling the government to replace revenues lost from taxing diesel fuel - it would also require a battery no bigger than that used in a Tesla car, solving one of the key problems with large electric commercial vehicles - i.e. the need for very large batteries.

Road freight contributes heavily to the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions - around 5 percent of the total in 2018 - and while battery-powered electric lorries and vans are viable for short-range deliveries, it is much harder to decarbonise long-haul deliveries by lorries , so this is an interesting idea that is certainly worth examining.

Neil Tyler

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