New Holland plans to have a prototype fuel cell tractor at the giant SIMA agricultural showin Paris in February.

While fuel cell technology is being developed by a number of car makers, this joint Iveco and New Holland (both part of the Fiat group) project is thought to be one of the first involving a tractor maker.

Details are still sketchy at this stage, but assuming it uses the same technology being developed for cars it will run on a hydrogen-powered fuel cell.

Fuel cells consist of two electrodes sandwiched around an electrolyte. Oxygen (from the air) passes over one electrode and hydrogen (stored in compressed form in the fuel tank) passes over the other, generating electricity in the process.

This electricity is stored in a lithium-ion battery and fed to the driving wheels by an electric motor. The only by-product is water, so in emissions terms it’s a winner.

The main drawbacks of fuel cells are their expense and the cost of producing the hydrogen in the first place, But New Holland suggests that the hydrogen could be generated on-farm by electrolysis of water, with the electricity required for that coming from wind, solar or biomass sources.