Surge of momentum for electric tractor development

While there was no mention of tractors and lorries in the government's announcement that the sale of diesel and petrol cars would be banned from 2040 onwards, changes to the economies of scale in fuel production along with a refocusing of research are likely to see considerable changes in these markets too.

John Deere is among the firms powering ahead in the field of electric tractors. Picture: Contributed
John Deere is among the firms powering ahead in the field of electric tractors. Picture: Contributed

And while electric cars are already commercially available, the automobile has not had the sole monopoly in research into alternative fuels, with several tractor manufacturers developing the area – and prototypes already in operation.

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A position paper drawn up recently by the English NFU said the vision of farms supporting integrated systems with renewable sources such as wind and solar being used to charge electric tractors and machinery – with the possibility of additional income being earned through “vehicle to grid” network balancing services and car charging points – was “no longer science fiction but instead the technology of the near future”.

Earlier this year John Deere released a prototype Sustainable Energy Supply for Agricultural Machinery (SESAM) battery-powered tractor.

According to the company, the fully functional prototype – powered by a lithium ion polymer battery – had been developed to be utilised in a number of the company’s different building blocks of frames and transmissions.

Powered by two 150kW electric motors, John Deere said the electric drives provided high torque at low speed and gave an output of 130kW of continuous power.

However, the company admitted that several challenges still had to be met on the road to fully electric mobile agricultural machines, including a likely work-time which was limited to four hours and a three-hour recharging period:

“A time schedule for market launch cannot be given at the moment. Thus, we still see the SESAM tractor as a vision, but as a vision that will come true,” said the company.

Another integrated approach has seen Case New Holland produce a second generation prototype tractor powered by methane gas from anaerobic digestors undergoing tests, with the company claiming that the 52kg tank capacity could deliver approximately half a day of autonomy during normal operations from the 180 hp machine.

The company has also been involved in developing hydrogen powered tractors, again fuelled from on-farm renewable such as solar and wind power sources since 2009.