L.A. plans electric highway to reduce truck pollution

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--HWis8NZBI]One of the most notoriously polluted cities in the U.S., Los Angeles is no stranger to smog. A brown haze can be seen hovering over the city many days of the year. In a region with such a temperate climate, LA's poor air quality is more the result of transportation emissions - freight trucks in particular - than building energy consumption. Now the possibility of an electric freight trucking system is being investigated to help curb LA's pollution.

The idea was presented last month at the Electric Vehicle Symposium as the Siemens eHighway. The system consists of electric wires suspended above a designated highway lane, which would help to propel hybrid diesel trucks down the road. Along the proposed stretch of highway, a truck would be able to enter the lane and attach to the electric cable, switch off its diesel engine, and run on an electric motor. The trucks would have a mechanism known as a pantograph installed, which would automatically engage the cable above, not unlike the device used on the cable cars of yesteryear. The pantograph would be wired to disconnect from the overhead line when the truck driver brakes.

A stretch of Interstate 710, also known as Long Beach Freeway, is slated to accommodate the first eHighway in the U.S., and the first real-world use of the eHighway in the world. The 710 currently funnels huge volumes of freight traffic from the ports of LA and Long Beach north to other parts of the city and out to the rest of the country. Together the two ports account for more than 40% of the freight that is shipped to the U.S., making the 710 an ideal place to test out such a project. If successful, the LA eHighway could allow for the conversion of millions of freight truck-miles from diesel to electric each year.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, the air quality control agency for much of LA and the surrounding region, hopes to have the project underway within the next 12 months.

~ Allison Bullock