HANOVER, Germany (DTN) -- Energy is issue number one at AgriTechnica this year, at least from my perspective. Four buildings in the 27-building complex of the world's largest farm show are dedicated in part to "energy plant production/renewable raw materials," which broadly means biogas production. But spread throughout the fairgrounds are pockets of innovation of alternative fuels, energy-savings and new ways to get by with less.
Fendt's booth, for instance, exerts a magnetic pull for folks interested in diesel/electric hybrids. A few buildings away, New Holland continues its determined search for alternative fuel vehicles with a methane driven tractor. And Italian manufacturer Merlo is displaying a telehandler that can work in three modes: straight diesel, diesel/electric and straight electric.
All of which proves that the search for new ways to power the farm is both incessant and global.
Fendt's X Concept tractor is for research only at this point; no production are models rolling off the assembly line in Marktoberdorf, Germany. Engineers started with a 700 Series model tractor and replaced the usual 6-cylinder engine with a 4-cylinder model capable of producing 200 hp. In the space they gained with the smaller engine, they installed a generator, said Benno Pichlmaier, manager of advanced engineering for AGCO/Fendt.
That generator creates 130 kw of electrical power, some of which is used for normal electric demands such as the cooling pump and the fan drive. "But the most important thing is that it provides power to the electric plugs [outlets] that are installed in the front and the back of the tractor to drive electrified implements," Pichlmaier said.
Imagine one day pulling a tillage tool, baler or planter that has few or no energy sucking hydraulic hoses. In their place are electric cables, which not only power the implement but also contain Ethernet connections that make the implement both energy-efficient and smart. That's the engineering dream. But it has a long way to go to reality.
Tractor manufacturers certainly have the know-how to build diesel/electric hybrids. (John Deere introduced one at AgriTechnica four years ago and gave it a small release in Europe. Deere never widely sold the E Premium here and not at all in North America.) One problem: tractors designed to power electric implements won't sell until there are electric implements to power. And implement manufacturers are not going to make electric implements until there are diesel/electric tractors to pull them. Chicken or egg?
(Today at AgriTechnica, I'll check out reported electric implements.)
New Holland's methane prototype is built on the T6 frame and delivers 135 hp using methane instead of diesel. Functionally, it is no different than its New Holland's T6 cousins. The prototype produces 80% fewer emissions than those of a standard diesel and it easily meet Final Tier 4 standards.
Besides its environmental benefits, a methane-powered tractor makes economic sense in Germany. The gas is readily available on many farms here, which have biogas generators to produce methane to power electric generators. A byproduct of the process is usable heat for homes and buildings.
The T6.140 Methane Power tractor stores 50 kg of compressed gas in nine tanks spaced strategically its frame for weight balance. The tanks have a central fill and can be topped off in 20 minutes. A full fuel load last about one half day. As a back up, the tractor has a 15-liter auxiliary diesel tank and can switch fuel sources at will.
New Holland is testing the tractor on its La Bellotta research farm outside Turin, Italy.
The Italian company Merlo won a gold medal for innovation at AgriTechnica for its Hybrid telehandler model, which comes with a 75-hp diesel but can also be plugged into to charge a battery for electric use. The charge lasts for two hours when the telehandler works in electric mode. The charge extends to four hours when used in Eco mode -- part diesel, part electric. If you really want to go green, the battery can be charged with solar panels.
Like the Fendt and New Holland tractors, the Merlo Hybrid is in research phase and not yet for sale. But if nothing else, hybrids are gaining traction. One day you might buy one.
© Copyright 2013 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.