New Holland's NH2 fuel cell tractor – the first to be shown by any tractor maker – finally broke cover in Turin, Italy today.
Based on a T6000 tractor, it runs on hydrogen and oxygen and produces no emissions at all.
Essentially, a fuel cell works a bit like a giant battery, with a pair of electrodes surrounded by an electricity-conducting solution. Hydrogen (stored at 350bar pressure in a tank) is passed over one electrode, while oxygen (from the air) is passed over the other. The electric current generated then passes to a pair of electric motors, one to drive the tractor and the other to run the pto and auxiliary services.
The NH2's fuel cell generates 106hp and sends the power via a splitter to the four wheels. There's no gearbox or clutch increasing or decreasing speed and power simply involve putting more or less power into the motor. Going into reverse is easy - you simply reverse the fuel cell terminals.
New Holland is the first to admit that there is still a lot of development needed before this tractor will be on sale in dealers. For a start, the hydrogen tank only holds enough fuel to power the tractor for 1.5-2hours.
New Holland plans to have the NH2 fuel cell tractor out for testing in two years' time
In the cab, the tractor is eerily silent. In fact the only sound is the electric motor working, which is a bit like the noise a child's radio-controlled tractor makes. And when it's stationary there is no noise at all. The usual vertical exhaust pipe is gone, too all you can see is a small pipe under the cab that lets the water (the only by-product of the fuel cell) out.
New Holland says it plans to have the NH2 out for testing in two years and production models by 2013. Not surprisingly, no price tags have been mooted and the €300,000 cost of the fuel cell alone illustrates the fact that this a tractor still some way away from production.
What's the point of a fuel-cell tractor? Zero emissions and zero reliance on fossil fuels are the main attractions. That may not be that important now, but in 10 or 20 years they're likely to be essential qualities for any vehicle.
Of course you still have to use electricity to electrolise water into hydrogen and oxygen in the first place. But New Holland says farms would be ideal places to produce that electricity from wind, solar or biomass sources and make their own fuel.
Want to see more from Turin? See our exclusive pictures from the launch here. And if you've something you've got to say, post it on our forums.