Over a 2 kilometre stretch of road just outside Sandviken, not far from Gävle in central Sweden, two electric cables have been stretched above the slow lane on the eastbound side of the E16 motorway. They are fairly high up, 5.28 metres to be exact, which is well above the height of any lorry or truck allowed on the roads here.
And normal traffic continues here as usual, but - over the next two years - some of the lorries will have a device called a pantograph that can be extended from the driver's cabin and attached to the electric cables, fuelling the engine. It is still just a test stretch of two kilometres, but the hope is that it can be extended, perhaps the whole way from Gävle on the coast, to Borlänge, an industrial town some 110 kilometres inland.
"On this stretch of road, we have a lot of our heavy industry that has a need to transport a lot of goods and the railroad going the same direction is already full, so we see this as a flexible railroad," said Magnus Ernström, who is the project manager from the regional authority Gävleborg Region.
According to Ernström, extending the test to longer stretches of road is not too far off.
"It's fewer years than most people expect. Because we have proven that it can be done, it is not science fiction. Now we just need to look into the economy of the project and how will we finance it. The calculations we've done so far show that if we would electrify the whole of the E16 roadway, some 200 kilometres (both ways), there would be a return on the investment in maybe 7 or 8 years, from existing traffic," he said.
To talk about electric wires above the road, and a century-old tram-like solution as part of the future may not be as strange as you think, according to Ernström. For electric cars, a lot has happened over the past five to ten years, but when it comes to heavy traffic and lorries, the electric solution is still waiting for an answer.
"Heavy traffic needs a lot of energy and you have to have a conductive technology if you want to run them on electricity today, that is; you need to have a connection between a wire and the system in the truck. If you would run a heavy truck on battery, it would need 20 tons of battery to transport maybe 30-40 tons of cargo, so you would not have so much room left for the cargo," said Magnus Ernström, who believes the system tried out in Sandviken at least will be one of the solutions for the future.
This has been a joint project between public bodies like the Transport Administration and Gävleborg Region, as well as the companies behind the technology: Siemens for the electric device and infrastructure, and Scania for the trucks. Now, during the test period, there will be many involved to evaluate and draw conclusions from the lessons learnt.
One company closely following the project from the outside, is Stora Enso, a renewable materials company, which currently drives 70 lorries a day over this stretch of road.
"In the transport industry, it is a challenge to really reduce CO2 emissions, so that is why this new technology is very interesting," said Linus Fredriksson head of logistics in Stora Enso in Scandinavia.