Methane-powered tractors could be on sale to farmers within five years, says New Holland, at a price that competes with conventional diesel-powered equivalents.
The first generation of methane tractors shown by New Holland at Agritechnica in 2013 (and previously by sister-brand Steyr) was based on a standard T6.140 tractor and housed a four-cylinder suspended engine which put out 136hp and 350Nm of torque.
This latest prototype, launched at the Milan Expo last week, is based on a T6.175 standard tractor but without the SCR after-treatment add-ons.
The sump remains, but is instead topped-off with a structural NEF six-cylinder block, which delivers 179hp and an increased torque of 740Nm over the previous generation prototype.
Nine storage tanks around the tractor hold 300 litres (equivalent to 52kg) of compressed methane, which is enough for roughly half a day’s work depending on what you’re doing.
Methane tanks on implements
New Holland points out that, if required, implements could also be designed to carry gas tanks, while add-ons such as front-mounted tanks and extra ballast could all play a part.
Savings of between 20% and 40% can be made on regular diesel models, reckons New Holland.
Moreover emissions are 80% lower than a standard diesel tractor thanks to a three-way catalyst that ensures compliance on its own, without the need for an additional after-treatment system.
Since it launched its Clean Energy Leader strategy in 2006, New Holland has dabbled with different renewable energy concepts, including the NH2 hydrogen-powered tractor first shown in 2009.
The company hoped to have NH2 production models ready for 2015. However the concept was dogged by the prohibitive cost of the fuel cells – the first prototype cost more than €500,000 (£360,000).
The NH2 concept hasn’t been abandoned completely, say New Holland designers.
However it reckons the methane-power tractor is far more viable since it can be based on a current production model and is likely to be competitively priced.
With another round of emissions legislation expected in the lead-up to 2020, New Holland’s methane tractor will already meet vastly reduced emissions targets with just its three-way catalyst.
Although the obvious target customer would be livestock farms with their own biogas plant, New Holland says that it may make more sense to fuel-up at filling stations that already have biogas supplies used by commercial vehicles.
To use biogas produced on farm for the tractor, which is about 51% methane, it would have to be scrubbed and passed through various filters to reach the necessary 98% methane required for the engine.
Tier 4B emission updates
New Holland’s T7, T8 and T9 ranges have been equipped with high-tech SCR technology to meet the latest round of emissions requirements.
As well as increased power levels in each range, there have also been styling updates like LED lighting packages as well as new cab features.
A new T7.HD range will be launched at the Farm Progress show in the US in September, filling the company’s gap in high-horsepower, compact tractors.
Later this year, the five-model T8 series, which has a rated hp of between 250hp and 380hp, will be available with optional SmartTrax, a twin-track concept that combines the manoeuvrability of a conventional front axle with the gripping ability of tracks.
Meanwhile, the T9 series gets a new model that sits just under the range-topping T9.700.
The T9.645 has a rated horsepower of 588hp and boosted power of 647hp thanks to engine power management.