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Power from above



Power supplied through overhead cables in combination with a diesel engine to reduce emissions by up to 50% as Scania and Siemens are set to test their solution on the A35 Brebemi

Massimo Condolo

The future of freight transport comes from the trolleybus. From this traditional, tried and tested and environmentally friendly urban means of transport comes the idea that promises significant reductions in emissions on motorways. Scania and Siemens have been working on it for some time, in Germany and Sweden. Within a couple of years, this technology will make its way into Italy, starting with a first experimental stretch on the A 35 Brebemi between Calcio and Romano di Lombardia.


Trucks outfitted with pantographs

The idea is simple: take an ordinary diesel truck, Euro 6 of course, and make it bimodal, that is, make it work also with electricity. The power supply comes from overhead cables, one positive and one negative, a bit like a trolleybus, but equipped with a pantograph like trams and trains, which ensures a higher top speed and less problems in maintaining contact with the cable. The truck is a classic long-haul vehicle: a Scania R series with a 450 hp in-line six-cylinder engine and 2350 Nm, without an EGR gas recirculation valve. A 130 kW, 1350 Nm synchronous electric motor is connected to the transmission. The electric motor works when the truck moves under the cable lines; the lithium batteries, able to guarantee a range of 10 km without power supply, are recharged by the overhead cables as well as regenerative braking. With flat batteries and away from the cables, the vehicle works like any other diesel truck. Which means no changes in traction or other complications in the logistics chain, as these bimodal trucks will depart from their depots or logistics platforms and reach their destination directly. The mileage guaranteed by these vehicles makes it possible to electrify only some sections of the motorways with a significant reduction in the costs of poles and overhead cables.


No limits

Behind this transformation we find Siemens, responsible for conducting similar experiments with good success in Sweden and Germany. In Italy, the trucks will be entrusted to some freight forwarders in Lombardy and Triveneto (including Brivio & Viganò, Fercam and Italtrans), who will use them in and out of logistics platforms in the Milan area. The vehicles will tow any type of semi-trailer compatible with their coupling, carrying goods on pallets, liquids, refrigerated loads just like their diesel counterparts. The ease with which such vehicles will fit into already arranged shifts and logistics processes without changing the organization (as the case, albeit not too invasively, with gas powered vehicles) is one of the keys to the success of the new system. On the A 35 Brebemi the power supply will be guaranteed, when fully operational, by a photovoltaic system able to provide for additional needs of the A35, making it the first fully sustainable motorway in Italy. The use of bimodal trucks will reduce harmful emissions by 50%, along the entire supply chain ("well to wheel").


Two years at the most

Timing in this case does not  depend on know-how. The technology has been around for some time now, so much so that in Sweden, Scania Bimodal trucks of two different generations have been circulating alongside each other for a couple of years at least. The full implementation of this technology depends more on regulations, called upon to deal with a completely new sector: we have never seen a trolley bus, or any similar vehicle, circulating under cables on a motorway. In Germany two years were needed to define such regulations; it is hoped that the Italian experiment will need a shorter period as it can rely on the already tested German experience.




Scania has traditionally been committed to reducing emissions from its trucks and buses. Alongside its trucks equipped with pantographs, Scania has long been offering solutions that can be applied on a large scale. Less than a year and a half after the launch of a 410 hp liquid natural gas (LNG) powered truck, available with long-haul or distribution cabs, more than 500 of them have already been registered. These are proving suitable for any segment of road transport and, thanks to the growth of the network of refuelling stations, supported by Scania itself, they can also be used on international routes. In addition to the LNG, a range of compressed natural gas (CNG) models is also available, ideal in urban areas for goods distribution and waste collection. The Swedish company is also the only one to have a mild-hybrid solution in its range, also ideal for use in the city and wherever there are frequent stops in traffic. Furthermore, diesel engines are all available as “Eco-friendly” versions suitable for fuels such as biodiesel and HVO, without loss of performance. As far as buses, Scania offers a purely electric solution for city services in addition to LNG and CNG engines.




In Italy, the vehicle repair sector can rely on 60,000 companies; 15,000 of which are part of an official manufacturer’s network. Mechanics are still viewed as performing a “dirty” job, poorly paid and carried out in an uncomfortable environment, even if the reality is rather different: cars and trucks are repaired by mechatronic technicians, who perform a clean, creative, and well paid job, since companies are quite willing to compete for the best technicians. In particular, assistance to industrial vehicles, said Franco Fenoglio, president of the Industrial Vehicles section of Unrae (as well as president and CEO of Italscania), "offers excellent opportunities for growth and even work experience abroad for young people who so wish”. In addition, this rather old-fashion image, plays a major role in “keeping” women out of the workshop. "But the two girls who work in our network, one in acceptance and the other in diagnosis," echoes Chiara Vaccari, head of training at Italscania, "work with full satisfaction and make full use of their typically female multitasking ability, which is essential in this field”.

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