HGVs and vans could benefit from on-road electric charging infrastructure

Early adoption of wireless electric vehicle recharging within the freight sector is a key ingredient to the future roll-out of ‘charge-as-you-drive’ technology, according to a Highways England report.

The recommendation was made in a feasibility study carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) into the introduction of dynamic wireless power transfer (DWPT) technology on the strategic road network (SRN).

DWPT will enable long-distance travel for electric vehicles without the need to stop and boost batteries by using underground charging infrastructure installed along motorways and major trunk roads.

While current battery technology would enable DWPT to be applied to fully electric cars and vans, the research said that higher power requirements and longer distances travelled by HGVs meant a fully-electric lorry was not viable at present.

However, trials could focus on the benefits that hybrid technology would gain from wireless charging, soemthing that would benefit HGVs.

It was anticipated that a fully electric HGV would be a possibility in the future though, once high-power charging infrastructure was widely installed.

In its executive summary, TRL suggested it was important for DWPT infrastructure to be put in place as a starting point to stimulate uptake of electric vehicles, with haulage firms to be encouraged at an early stage.

“Focus on early adopters should be on commercial operators, with a particular emphasis on road haulage companies using vehicles between 12 tonnes and 32.5 tonnes, which regularly use particular stretches of the SRN,” the report recommended.

Commercial vehicle research within the DWPT feasibility study included responses from 10 national freight operators – both own-account and hire and reward – alongside the FTA, vehicle manufacturers and representatives from passenger transport bodies.

Survey results showed operators were encouraged by the potential of the technology; however they wanted to make sure adequate infrastructure was in place before making any purchasing decisions.

It was also important for them to see a swift return on investment on purchase or leasing costs. Ideally any additional costs should be offset by savings in operating costs between 18 months and three years.

Other concerns included range and size limitations; with many existing hybrid HGVs not being large enough or able to travel far enough; payload reduction; vehicle reliability and the need to ensure competitive whole-life costs.

Three selected operators chosen for in-depth interviews stated they would be willing to take part in future funded pilots of the technology on their fleets.

Opportunties to go electric

Rachel Dillon, climate change policy manager at the FTA, said current focus on electric vehicles for delivering goods was predominantly centred around urban operations, with the association helping to address issues such as payload restraints and high upfront costs of vehicles.

However, she added it was conceivable there could be opportunities in the future for long-distance electric freight vehicles, so welcomed Highways England’s research.

The focus on hybrid technology, rather than fully electric HGVs was also a sensible move, said Dillon.

“The most viable alternative fuel we think [for HGVs] is gas at this stage. But obviously there is a lot of momentum and interest in ultra low-emission vehicles at present, so it is right for Highways England to explore them. But at the end of the day, it’s about operators being able to make a business case for using these vehicles,” she said.

Highways England chief highways engineer Mike Wilson said: “The off road trials of wireless power technology will help to create a more sustainable road network for England and open up new opportunities for businesses that transport goods across the country.”