Every weekday, around 50,000 trucks drive back and forth along a freeway leaving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two largest ports in the country. The diesel exhaust from those trucks is one of the reasons that the area also has the country’s worst air pollution.
But that may change as the result of a new experiment, as one stretch of the freeway will be transformed into an electric road. Using the same type of overhead wires that power electric streetcars or some buses, the road will automatically charge passing trucks.
“Essentially, it’s CO2 free,” says Matthias Schlelein, CFO for Siemens Mobility, the company that created the technology for the e-highway. “You get cleaner air, and you also have quieter traffic. Truck operators have lower energy costs.”
When a truck pulls onto the electrified stretch of road, sensors on the roof will automatically detect the wires overhead and connect. If a driver wants to change lanes, the truck can quickly disconnect.
When they’re not attached to the wires, trucks still run on diesel; since semis haul very heavy loads for long distances, purely electric trucks aren’t feasible yet. But it isn’t difficult to make a truck with the technology on top to use the wires.
“Our technology is something that’s proven,” Schlelein says. “It’s sort of transferring the technology of a railroad on a track. But unlike the railroad, we preserve the flexibility that a truck has to go anywhere.”
The technology will be tested on one mile of the L.A. freeway next year, and if all goes well, extended further. Technically, it could be used on highways across the entire country, though the cost of installation means it may be limited–at least for now–to the most polluted places.
For the neighborhoods around the truck-clogged 710 freeway in L.A., the technology could make a big difference. People living in the area are twice as likely to have asthma than the average American, and 20 times more likely to get cancer. For the rest of us, the technology would lower the carbon footprint of the next gadget we buy from China. 40% of everything imported into the U.S. comes through L.A.’s ports.