Tractors of the future will reportedly be a mix of different fuel types and innovative technology. There will be two key drivers to this: reducing emissions and precision farming.
According to Mike Woollacott, managing director of Greenwatt Technology, we can expect a steep rise in autonomous tractors and robots on-farm, as well as more variation in machinery designed for specific purposes.
He added that these machines will be fuelled by a mixture of renewable electricity, hydrogen and biomethane, at least in the short term.
Mr Woollacott will be exploring applications for on-farm renewable energy at the Low Carbon Agriculture Show, taking place at 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.”
Speaking about the hydrogen supply issue, he explained the prospect of farms producing their own hydrogen through a process of electrolysis, using renewable energy from solar or wind to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
“But currently electrolysis is expensive to justify at farm scale,” Mr Woollacott warned. “Perhaps a hydrogen and battery hybrid will provide the solution of adequate power with zero emissions.
“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. Ultimately, tractors of the future could all look very different.”
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. This is 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,” he said.
“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.”
Other opportunities will come from the evolution of changing rural infrastructure, said 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.
“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,” she explained.
Farmers wanting to find out more about opportunities in 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 session 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.
To learn more and book tickets go to www.lowcarbonagricultureshow.co.uk