Sweden's new electric highway works like a scaled-up slot car track
In a move that will probably delight anyone who raced slot cars as a kid (or an adult), the Swedish Transport Administration has just opened a 2-km (1.2-mi) stretch of electrified road that works the same way. The project, dubbed eRoadArlanda, involves embedding electric rails into the road surface to power electric vehicles through a contact arm hanging down from under the car.
If electric vehicles are ever going to become mainstream, the infrastructure around them needs to be as convenient for drivers as possible. Charging stations are getting more common and more advanced, and we've seen other systems proposed that would top up cars on the go, like wireless charging lanes or Siemens' eHighways that use overhead cables.
In the eRoadArlanda project, electricity from two parallel tracks in the road is fed into a vehicle through an arm attached to the underside of the car. That might sound restrictive, but the arm is retractable, and hooked up to sensors that tell it to only extend down when it's above the rails. If the car needs to overtake or turn off the road, the arm folds back up out of the way and the vehicle draws power from its battery.
Electrifying the road might sound like a dangerous idea, but the tech has been designed with a few measures in place to protect humans and animals that might walk across it. The track at the surface is earthed to prevent shocks, with the conductor itself buried deeper down – and even then only short sections are powered at a time, as vehicles pass over them. To get zapped, you'd need to be on your hands and knees jamming a fork between the rails, in which case the more immediate danger would be the car speeding towards you.
Rain reportedly won't pose a problem either. Drainage systems are in place along the track, and the contact arm has been designed to push water out of the way – as well as gravel, rocks and other small obstacles. The gap between the rails is also too small to cause a problem for motorbike and bicycle wheels.
After a few years of testing on an enclosed track, the project is now moving onto public roads. The 2-km test rail runs between the cargo terminal at Stockholm Arlanda airport and the Rosersberg logistics site, and will be used by a modified PostNord truck. If that goes well, the Swedish Transport Administration is planning a larger rollout across the country's highways. According to the eRoadArlanda group, electrifying 20,000 km (12,427 mi) of Sweden's roadways would cost about SEK80 billion (US$9.5 billion), but the cost would be recouped within three years.
The ultimate goal is for the rails to complement the wider electric vehicle infrastructure. Only highways and arterials need to be electrified in this way, while the vehicles can run on battery power on smaller streets and recharged at home or other stations if needed. Rather than trying to combat range anxiety by developing bigger batteries, the project is reducing the length of the journeys between power sources to a distance that current electric cars can already manage.
The group describes the project in the video below.
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This would provide a source of revenue for the highway system much like the gas tax does for ICE cars.
It would provide unlimited range for electric cars on our interstate system and main arterials where most of the long-distance travel is done.
Electric cars wouldn't need huge batteries for extended range so they'd be cheaper.
Only the main arterials would need a rail. On a two, three, or four lane highway, only one lane would need to be electrified.
Rush hour traffic would not increase the load on the electrical system. Most of those vehicles would not use the rail since they would be short distance commuters running on batteries.
Long distance travelers would take a continuous charge, instead of short bursts of charge at charging stations - creating a load leveling effect on electric infrastructure.
This could be utilized on long highway inclines to transfer energy from vehicles going down the hill to vehicles going up the hill.
Clearly the only body capable of approving and paying for this technology to become widespread is some regional or national government, yet in the history of industrial development, the only initiatives to succeed were private ones, driven by entrepreneurs finely attuned to the needs of their putative clients. Government-driven development always fails to meet market needs. This poses a significant hurdle to uptake of this technology unless the investors produce truly astounding test segments of road, prove it all works and, above all, make it affordable.
In the meantime, the climate is cooling and nobody can prove that our emissions cause significant warming. I note that the Royal Society of New Zealand has as good as <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y7uqtx34">admitted it cannot find evidence</a>.
Ammonia is also a solution for planes and ships.