07 May 2019, Hessen, Darmstadt: Two Scania R450 Hybrid tractors with extended pantograph are about to start operating the first German test track for electric trucks with overhead contact line at a service area on motorway 5 (A5). The eHighway will be tested in public road traffic for the first time on the 10-kilometer test track between the Langen/Mörfelden and Weiterstadt junctions. Photo: Silas Stein/dpa (Photo by Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images)
07 May 2019, Hessen, Darmstadt: Two Scania R450 Hybrid tractors with extended pantograph are about to start operating the first German test track for electric trucks with overhead contact line at a service area on motorway 5 (A5). The eHighway will be tested in public road traffic for the first time on the 10-kilometer test track between the Langen/Mörfelden and Weiterstadt junctions. Photo: Silas Stein/dpa (Photo by Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images
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(CNN Business) —  

Trucks are guzzling ever more diesel, polluting towns and cities and fueling climate change. Germany thinks it may have found the answer by using overhead lines to power big rigs.

A system that allows trucks to draw electric power from overhead cables went into operation on 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of the autobahn on Tuesday, according to the German government.

It’s the first such test on a public road in Germany.

Developed by Siemens (SIEGY), the system allows big rigs with special equipment mounted on their roofs to connect to electrified lines while traveling at speeds of up to 90 kilometers per hour (56 miles per hour).

The trucks run on electric motors when connected to the overhead lines, and a hybrid system when they return to a traditional road. Sensors detect when the overhead wires are available.

Siemens says its eHighway system combines the efficiency of electric rail with the flexibility of trucking. Another benefit is a sharp reduction in emissions of CO2 and nitrogen oxides.

Trucks on a section of road used to test the eHighway system in Germany.
Trucks on a section of road used to test the eHighway system in Germany.
PHOTO: Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images

Siemens argues that the system can be integrated with existing road infrastructure, making it a practical way to reduce emissions and energy consumption in places where railways aren’t feasible.

Road benefits

The section of road opened Tuesday is part of a crucial link between Frankfurt airport, a global freight hub, and a nearby industrial park. Two more stretches of highway with the system will open soon.

The German government spent €70 million ($77 million) to develop trucks that can use the system. Siemens said that a truck owner could save €20,000 ($22,370) on fuel over 100,000 kilometers (62,137 miles).

A technician works on a big rig before the tests commence.
A technician works on a big rig before the tests commence.
PHOTO: Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images

Environmental boost

Truck transportation is the world’s fastest growing source of oil demand, according to the International Transport Forum, which is part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

According to the group, road transportation of goods will also account for 15% of the projected increase in global CO2 emissions until 2050.

Slashing carbon emissions from transportation including freight is a key part of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which aims limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Projects like the one in Germany could be part of a solution that includes increased railway and electric vehicle use.

“Electrified trucks are particularly efficient solution on the road to carbon-neutral transportation,” said Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter, state secretary at the German Federal Ministry for the Environment.

Tests and demonstrations of the eHighway technology have also been conducted on a smaller scale in Sweden and near the US ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.