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Electric road freight transport with overhead lines and batteries: rationale, combinations and institutional design

Road freight transport is about to undergo its greatest transformation, shifting from the previously dominant diesel engine to climate-neutral propulsion systems. In addition to developing alternative drive systems, the combination of battery and overhead line systems creates potential savings in terms of energy, space and time. The ESOB-RKI research project aims to extensively model, contextualize and evaluate these from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Project background:

The pressure to decarbonize our economic system and energy sector (and therefore also our transport systems) as quickly as possible means that fundamental decisions will have to be made in the years ahead regarding how to transform road freight transport. Numerous studies and model calculations have shown that switching to direct electric drive systems in heavy-duty road freight transport can have a significantly positive impact on the climate in the medium term compared to switching to hydrogen and e-fuel drive systems. However, the lengthy distances that trucks have to travel, the battery capacity required for heavy goods loads as well as spatial and infrastructural issues all pose major challenges. In this respect, overhead lines, which have already been tried and tested in rail transport, would enable lorries to be supplied with electricity for driving and recharging batteries while on the move. The technical feasibility of this system has already been amply demonstrated in practical projects and related research. Subsequently, the focus has shifted to the modelling and evaluation of economic and planning factors, highlighting the need to embed the development of an overhead line system in a suitable and realistic approach to decision-making processes.

Based on this research, the ESOB - RKI project is especially interested in the combination of battery and overhead line systems for heavy goods transport. To assist the decision-making process, existing and ongoing research findings will be analysed and evaluated. Our own transport models form the basis for classifying ramp-up scenarios from a technical, transport planning, economic and legal perspective. The professors of Railway Engineering in an International Context (Prof. Dr.-Ing. Michael Lehmann) and Transport Policy and Spatial Planning (Prof. Dr Matthias Gather) from the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt are both involved in the project. This interdisciplinary project is being carried out in cooperation with the Professor of Infrastructure Economics and Management (Prof. Dr. Thorsten Beckers) at Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, the law firm W2K as the legal subcontractor (Dr. Holger Weiß, LL.M. and Prof. Dr. Georg Hermes) and the consulting firm Consentec (Dr.-Ing. Christoph Maurer, Dr.-Ing. Wolfgang Fritz), which specializes in energy technology and economic matters.

Goals of the research project:

  • systematic review and analysis of existing research
  • transport modelling of different combination scenarios involving battery and overhead line systems
  • evaluation of energy requirements in terms of costs and climate impact
  • identifying and modelling ramp-up paths
  • financial and legal frameworks
  • deriving recommendations for action

Desired result:

The work and outputs of the project are expected to make a substantial contribution to decision-making processes on the transformation of road freight transport. This relies on close interaction with all stakeholders and institutions involved. The project outputs are therefore regularly presented, shared and discussed in interim reports and workshops. The project focuses on developing a transport model that can be used to simulate and evaluate different variants and scenarios for combining battery and overhead line systems. The findings of this project and how they were derived will be comprehensively presented in a concluding study. Consequently, the ESOB - RKI project aims to provide the necessary guidance on how to specifically implement the energy transition. 

The project is being conducted as part of the funding initiative to promote research and development in the field of electromobility by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK).


Project duration

September 2021 - February 2025

Project collaborators

  • Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Professorship for Infrastructure Economics and Management
  • W2K Rechtsanwälte
  • Consentec GmbH


  • Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK)