‘eHighways urgently need a boost in Flanders’

Trucks that draw their electricity from overhead wires on the highway are a way to make road freight transport independent of fossil fuels. Interim results of a study by the Flemish Institute for Logistics (VIL) show that trucks under electric catenary are a “feasible and profitable climate solution”.

Every euro invested in this climate solution today can yield up to 8,3 euros for 20 years. But, if Flanders wants to continue to play a role in the European transport network, it must not delay.

Germany at the forefront

In an Electric Road System (ERS), freight is equipped with a pantograph, just like a train or tram. This makes it possible to drive emission-free while charging the truck batteries in the meantime. In this way, ERS complements the charging points infrastructure along the highways.

Various European countries are experimenting with ERS. Germany, for example, opened the third experimental ‘eHighway’ last summer, a 3,4 km stretch on the national B 462 road between Kuppenheim and Gaggenau. Switzerland has kilometres-long pilot projects under expansion, and Sweden is working on an electric stretch of 2 000 km. The Netherlands, France, and the UK, among others, are also taking a close look at similar networks.

According to transport economist Raimonds Aronietis of Antwerp University, however, Flanders should have already started adapting the highways yesterday. “Especially given the current fuel prices,” Aronietis emphasizes.

Missing the boat

Sophie Delannoy, project manager at the Flemish Institute for Logistics, urges action also. “The technology is compact, powerful, and low-maintenance. Abroad, they are already switching from pilot projects to series production. Flanders cannot afford to miss the boat.”

In the first phase, the investment will be 50 million euros. It will then rise to almost 2 billion euros for comprehensive road coverage. “That seems a lot, but it is a fairly modest amount,” continues Aronietis. “It is 0,8% of our GDP. This one-off investment is not too bad if you know that Belgium spends 13 billion euros a year on fossil fuel subsidies.”

And not unimportant: for every euro we invest, we get 8,3 euros back. So, we can avoid 69% of CO2 emissions from road transport in the long run. Rolling out a catenary on the highway is also possible without much road work because these can be done from the breakdown lane. It is also a business that the government can outsource.

Project Logibat

The regulations and the increasing pressure for sustainability also force the logistics sector to think quickly. That is why some 30 companies and organizations, together with the researchers, are thinking about electrified transport.

Project Logibat, the official name for the study, is looking for the conditions to make battery-electric transport feasible. The most suitable routes in Flanders, for example, are currently being examined in the vicinity of the ports.

Big results, small efforts

According to Toon Wassenberg of the German electronica conglomerate Siemens, ERS offers the best results from minimal efforts. “You combine the efficiency of a railway with the flexibility of a truck. ERS is also compatible with various fuel technologies. Moreover, with electricity immediately converted into motion, very little energy is lost.”

Above all, the future of the Flemish ERS network must benefit from being used by international freight traffic. It can be a profitable way of decarbonizing road freight, both for the transporters and network operators.

“ERS makes it possible to equip trucks with small batteries,” says Sophie Delannoy. “On the eHighways, they can recharge while they run on battery power on ordinary roads. Calculations show that even with the smallest battery capacity these trucks can reach almost all industrial sites in Flanders.”

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