First electric road unveiled in Sweden

Sweden recently unveiled the world’s first electrified road which charge batteries of trucks and cars as they move along the stretch. The road has around 2.1km of electric rail embedded in it. The electric rail tracks fitted in the road transfer energy to four-wheelers as they pass over them with the help of a movable arm, attached to the bottom of the car. The rail tracks have a design, which is pretty similar to the Scalextirc track and if the vehicle overtakes then the arm is automatically disconnected.

The road has been divided into 50m sections, and the electric railway tracks function only when a vehicle moves over them. Once the car or truck stop, it stops being powered. The system has been so designed that it calculates the car’s energy consumption, based on which the electricity cost is calculated and recovered from the user.

Unlike roadside charging posts, the automatic charging system means that vehicles are powered by smaller batteries, thereby bringing down manufacturing costs.

The project is being handled by eRoad Arlanda consortium, whose chief executive Hans Sall said the existing roadways and vehicles could be adapted to be used on the electrified roads. The road has been built in Stockholm but the Sweden government is working on drafting a national map for future expansion of the electrified road network.

The fact that the country is planning to be independent of the use of fossil fuels for its energy needs by 2030 requires it to cut down its transport sector by 70%.

As per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in 2010, the transport sector was responsible for 23% of the energy-related carbon dioxide emissions across the globe. In the absence of aggressive and sustained mitigating policies, transport emissions could increase at a faster rate than the energy end-use sectors.

Countries’ aim to reduce green-house gas (GHG) emissions could be a challenge as the rapid expansion of passenger and freight activity could outweigh all efforts unless transport emissions are decoupled from economic growth.

Experts suggest that road transport is estimated to rise by 59% by 2030. By electrifying roads, countries could use their existing road infrastructure to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse emissions. The use of electrified roads can cut down the use of fossil fuels by over 80-90%, not to forget an inexpensive and climate control-friendly option. These roads also ensure that operational costs are minimal due to reduced energy consumption. The transport sector responsible for around 33% of Sweden’s carbon emissions, of which one-third are due to freight movement. Estimates suggest that two-thirds of the nation’s truck transportation could be done on electrified roads, which could save around three million tonnes of fuel.

eRoad Arlanda is one of the flagship programmes of Swedish Transport Administration for development of companies and comprises a consortium of companies and government units. The techniques developed during the project are based on a conductive technology which enables cars to be recharged on the go. The project aims to develop experience, knowledge, and data about electrified routes in Sweden. The government’s initiative is in line with its resolve to achieve independence from fossil fuel use by 2030 and make Sweden more competitive.

Given its advantages, experts have wondered why haven’t electrified roads been more in the news. The reason lies in the lack of research and innovation in the field. Currently, due to the lack of customized vehicles, fit to be used on electrified roads, these batteries can only ensure journey over short distances. The development of battery technology has been slow in comparison to engines powered by diesel and gasoline.

Even the best of batteries have only a fraction of the capacity to store energy as compared to the content of diesel. The drawback makes it difficult to cover long distances for electric cars, which are powered by electrified roads. It takes take less than three minutes to fill 60 liters of diesel in a car’s tank. However, it takes much longer to recharge batteries on a current of high intensity.

To meet the challenges of a short battery power, eRoad Arlanda is trying to combine battery power with direct power feeds when in motion. On smaller roads, vehicles would be powered by batteries. On longer routes, these batteries would be charged continuously. To be charged, vehicles need to be driven only certain sections of the road, which have an electrical feed. The project envisages charging points at different locations like homes, malls or at an office. If implemented, it might be possible for people to drive from North Cape in northern Norway to Malaga in the southern part of France, without making any pit-stops for fuel.

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