We are years away from cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tives to diesel power in farm­ing


Irish Independent - Farming - - NEWS -

WHEN it comes to high-pow­ered trac­tors and other big self-pro­pelled farm ma­chines like com­bine har­vesters, we are still years off find­ing cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tives to diesel power.

The main is­sue with pro­posed al­ter­na­tives like electric and bio­fu­els is field au­ton­omy; that is, find­ing a re­place­ment to diesel fuel that can re­al­is­ti­cally pro­vide the hours (mileage equiv­a­lent in the mo­tor world) that you can get out of a tank of fuel for long days in the field.

New Hol­land Agri­cul­ture is the trac­tor man­u­fac­turer which has made by far the most head­way to date with bio­fuel de­signs.

Oth­ers like John Deere and JCB have done some work on electric power.

Last year New Hol­land un­veiled their con­cept meth­ane-pow­ered trac­tor. The idea is to make farm­ers in­de­pen­dent in terms of fuel sup­ply by us­ing farm-grown en­ergy crops, crop residue and other waste prod­ucts to pro­duce the biomethane needed to fuel the trac­tor.

New Hol­land claims the re­sult­ing fuel has a vir­tu­ally zero CO2 pro­file – and de­liv­ers an 80pc re­duc­tion in over­all emis­sions and noise lev­els com­pared to cur­rent diesel en­gines. How­ever, there is no men­tion of costs to date and it is very much a con­cept de­sign still.

JCB ear­lier this year un­veiled its first electric ex­ca­va­tor; the mini-dig­ger is also the qui­etest ma­chine in its range and de­liv­ers zero emis­sions.

The lo­gis­tics in­volve a 48V elec­tri­cal driveline with three lithium-ion bat­tery packs pro­vid­ing 15kWh stor­age ca­pac­ity and a six­hour recharg­ing ca­pa­bil­ity.

But can we re­al­is­ti­cally ever ex­pect to see bat­tery or bio­fuel tillage and con­tract­ing spec trac­tors that turn out 250hp-plus?

Field au­ton­omy

Dar­ragh Mullin, mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ist for 110-620hp trac­tors with New Hol­land Agri­cul­ture, thinks we are still a way off but that stricter emis­sions reg­u­la­tions will con­tinue to fo­cus the minds of trac­tor man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“The is­sue with some of the pro­pos­als we see to­day is field au­ton­omy, which ba­si­cally means the amount of hours we can get from a tank or bat­tery be­fore it needs re­plen­ish­ing,” he said.

“There is very lit­tle out there that can re­place diesel for the amount of en­ergy it can re­lease that doesn’t ask for a com­plete re­think of the cur­rent en­gine ar­chi­tec­ture of trac­tors.”

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