19 Jan 2022
What does the tractor of the future look like and how will it be fuelled?
Tractors of the future will be a mix of different fuel types and innovative tech and there are two key drivers: reducing emissions, and precision farming. We can expect a steep rise in autonomous tractors and robots on farms, and more variation in machinery designed for specific purposes. The machines will be fuelled by a mixture of renewable electricity (batteries), hydrogen and biomethane, at least in the relatively short-term, according to Mike Woollacott, MD of Greenwatt Technology. Mike will be Exploring applications for on farm renewable energy, including transport, at Low Carbon Agriculture show, taking place at the NAEC, Stoneleigh, on 8 and 9 March 2022. “Tractors below 50 horsepower can be battery-powered, and I see these being multi-tooled, with bolt on and off systems and predict there will be a rise of smaller machines and robots specifically developed for precision techniques. “For larger vehicles, if we can’t replace a high-power fuel like diesel with a battery, we need something that can replace it. Hydrogen has the power. However, there are some caveats; Hydrogen has supply limitations, also hydrogen fuel cell powered systems may not be ideally suited to operate well under vibration and dusty field conditions.” On the hydrogen supply issue, Mike explains the prospect of farms producing their own hydrogen through a process of electrolysis using renewable electricity from solar or wind to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. “But currently electrolysis is expensive to justify at farm scale,” Mike warns. “Perhaps a hydrogen and battery hybrid will provide the solution of adequate power with zero emissions,” Mike says. “Biomethane sourced from upgraded biogas from on farm AD plants is already available but this solution depends on access to gas powered tractors and enough AD units,” Mike says. “Ultimately, tractors of the future could all look very different,” adds Mike. Advances in the cost and efficiency of batteries and alternative fuels in the automotive industry should spill over into the prospects for tractors and other agricultural machinery, according to Neil Wallis at Zemo Partnership, the not-for-profit organisation helping to accelerate transport to zero emissions. “Enabling sustainable farm production - using less energy and inputs - is expected to be a core tenet of future product design. Farmers will be encouraged to move away from heavier equipment to help reduce soil compaction, allowing fields to absorb and sequester more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” says Neil. “There are an array of opportunities connected with the production of renewable energy, especially wind and solar, by farmers which, ultimately may be used in transport, either directly as electricity or renewably-sourced hydrogen,” adds Neil. Another opportunity for farmers is the evolution of rural charging infrastructure, where the agricultural industry could be central, explains Lisa Howkins at NFU Energy. “Research has shown that if we are to meet demand and hit decarbonisation targets, the UK needs to be installing 40-50 new chargers every day for the next 10 years.1 “To help every farmer in the UK become part of a net zero sector by 2040, NFU Energy has launched its Renewable Energy Solutions and Electric Vehicles services. “We have partnered with three specialists in this area to ensure we can cater for the entire farming community. Our services cover, standalone chargers, multiple same-site chargers, and land-leasing arrangements, giving landowners the opportunity to earn a rental income. Our offering provides EV drivers access to the fastest charging available,” says Lisa. Farmers wanting to find out about opportunities in low emission vehicles, renewable energy, and sustainable farming, are invited to attend Low Carbon Agriculture Show, at the NAEC, Stoneleigh on 8 and 9 March 2022, where there is a dedicated conference sessions on Low Emission Vehicles and Machinery. The session will be chaired by James McGeachie, technical and programme director at Zemo Partnership and speakers and topics include:
- Matt Edwards, senior policy advisor at the department for transport, will present on ‘Decarbonising our transport system – what’s the plan?’;
- Lisa Howkins, Sales and marketing director, NFU Energy, will present on ‘Understanding the feasibility and opportunities associated with EV charging’;
- Gareth Deakin, senor project delivery lead at APC UK, will be taking a closer look at the methane powered tractor.