Diesel’s on death row – but what’s the alternative for HGVs?

As the race to Net Zero gathers pace I look at Scania’s plans to develop a truck which charges from overhead cables – much like a tram.

Rod McKenzie

Rod McKenzie | 10th November 2021 2:07 PM

I’ve been in Glasgow this week at COP26 where there’s much talk of what the truck of the future looks like.

Is it powered by Hydrogen, or some other form of gas?

Or is it electric – and how would a charging infrastructure work?

One solution that I was shown was the overhead electric cable system which Scania are leading the way on. Understandably, they believe their plan works and is viable for the industry. Other manufactures are working up their blueprints at pace, too.

In essence for the Scania model, think of a tram running on overhead wires – trolleybus style. The tractor unit has a pantograph on its roof which picks up an electric charge from overhead wires stretched along lane 1 of a motorway. When the vehicle moves into lane 2, it runs on its own charged electric battery until it can get back into lane 1 after overtaking. During this time it tops up its charge rather than having to make frequent stops for plug-in charging.

Clearly, the capital expense is huge: cabling motorways (even just a few) would run into millions and many roads, for example A-roads and others, simply could never be cabled. Smart Motorway gantries and on/off hard shoulders, low bridges and cabling at junctions also present considerable problems.

Scania and logistics academics believe however, the idea is more reliable and energy efficient, with a lower cost to operators than the gas alternatives.

We should also consider that the government will lose many millions in its tax take from the end of fuel duty – so alternative taxation of electric HGVs is a racing cert.

We’ll continue to monitor and advise our membership on the big hydrogen versus electric debate (other fuels may well be available). Ultimately, it’s going to be a tough business decision to make the best call for the future investment as the clock is ticking and time is running out for diesel.

Tell us what you think about Scania’s idea.