New Holland, a worldwide farm equipment manufacturer showed its fuel cell powered farm tractor at the Turin Italy Farm Exposition last week. The surprise isn’t that the engineering can be done, it’s that the steady output of 106 horsepower is specified. No mention is made of the torque output, but electric drives have an advantage in torque suggesting that the output would be satisfactory. One motivator is that the tractor would be emissions free of course, yet another more relevant motivator could be a farm might be able to split out is own hydrogen from wind or photovoltaic solar. That premise may have more appeal in the U.S. and other countries.

A Layout for the New Holland Fuel Cell Tractor

A Layout for the New Holland Fuel Cell Tractor

The hydrogen is stored at a pressure of 350 bar (5075 psi), fed through the fuel cell and the current is passed on to two electric motors. One motor drives the tractive wheel set and the other runs the power take off shaft and auxiliary units such as hydraulics, steering and cab climate.

The power is sent out of the drive motor using a splitter using no transmission or clutch. The entire speed and power output is controlled by the current passed to the motor. To reverse the fuel cell terminals are reversed. The prototype’s fuel supply would keep the power coming for 1.5 to 2 hours.

Operators will find the tractor to be near silent with some gear whine, tire noise and cab climate systems the only sources of sound. The “exhaust pipe” is a tube to drip the water out from the fuel cell.

The company’s goals are zero emissions but more importantly can be zero reliance on fossil fuels for food production. Those may not seem so critical now but a decade or two could well change the picture dramatically.

New Holland Fuel Cell Tractor. Click for more.

New Holland Fuel Cell Tractor. Click for more.

The tractors are forecast to come to market in 2013. The issues are the cost of the fuel cells and the local infrastructure to split hydrogen and store it. The fuel cell used in the prototype cost about $390,000. That would be an insurmountable problem if costs are not driven way down.

Under the hood of the New Holland Fuel Cell Tractor

Under the hood of the New Holland Fuel Cell Tractor

The bright side is that fuel cells, electric motors, power splitting devices, machine layouts and other engineering matters are underway. Should methanol, ethanol or NH3 become the fuels for very low cost fuel cells the prospects for a change to non-oil based power units such as farm equipment or construction equipment are now getting quite high. The prototype will allow New Holland to have the rest of the machine well worked out to modern standards while fuel cell development is closing in on being a cost effective alternative to diesel.

The other hand holds the fuel cell price and progress. Plus there will be intense competition from familiar names like John Deere and Caterpillar yet to come. A brief look at the history of economic growth in the west and across the planet shows that progress was started by power equipment in food production and construction. Much leading innovation has come from the farm industry into other industries so its no surprise that a fuel cell powered hybrid drive farm tractor is being developed. We’re much closer to being economically safe from oil prices than we previously thought. 106 steady horsepower is quite a lot. 35 years ago that was a big machine.

I want to thank New Holland for getting a prototype example out so soon. And a hat tip to Farmers Weekly in the UK for the tip.


5 Comments so far

  1. balendra on July 31, 2009 10:16 PM

    “Good articles “
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  2. new holland skid steer on August 1, 2009 11:36 AM

    Thats pretty cool, tractors and skid steers are going to be amazing in the near future.

  3. Zubair Mahmud on January 3, 2010 9:34 AM

    Please provide me technical specifications and financial offers

  4. Joaquin Pov on May 26, 2011 9:40 AM

    This post makes a lot of sense !

  5. Edgar Deroberts on September 27, 2011 6:51 PM

    Thanks for posting. Good to see that not everyone is using RSS feeds to build their blogs 😉

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