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.
Mr Woollacott 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,” he 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,” Mr Woollacott says.
“Ultimately, tractors of the future could all look very different,” he adds.
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 Mr Wallis.
“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 Mr Wallis..
Another opportunity for farmers is the evolution of rural charging infrastructure, where the agricultural industry could be central, explains Lisa Howkins at NFU Energy.
“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.
- 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.
In the exhibition, Offroad Electric will be showcasing the Electric UBCO 2WD work bikes, the Eco Charger 2DW and 4DW quad bikes, the Electric HiSun 4WD UTV / Work Buggy and also on display will be the electric Farmtrac tractor distributed Reesink Agriculture. Listers will be showcasing the Toyota Proace, the RAV4 plug-in hybrid, the C-HR Self-Charging Hybrid and the all-new Lexus NX Hybrid, plus more low/zero carbon vehicles and machinery to be announced imminently.