While the main advancements in farm equipment for the past decade have focused on developing precision agriculture, engineers haven’t been sitting idly, expecting technology to do all the work. Equipment manufacturers around the world are experimenting with ways for electrical equipment to improve tractors and implements.
“Electrification is coming – if we can figure out how to keep the price down,” says Tim Stombaugh, an Extension professor of machine systems automation engineering at the University of Kentucky. “It is more efficient, is quieter, requires less maintenance, is more controllable, and is potentially safer and lighter.”
There are two main experiments being conducted on how electric power can be used: one for diesel-electric tractors and one for battery-powered tractors.
The X Concept is powered by AGCO’s Power four-cylinder diesel engine. The compact design of the engine allows the tractor to accommodate the necessary components for the electrical technology, including a high-performance alternator, power electronics, wiring, and the specialist heat exchanger.
“We are confident that electricity will be used more and more in agriculture.” says Stephan Bea, head of sales engineering at Fendt.
Each rotor on the rake has an integral electric drive powered by the Fendt X Concept tractor. The torque motors are integrated into each rake socket, eliminating the need for separate housing, gearbox, or bearings.
Because each motor is regulated independently, you are able to vary the speed of each rotor. For example, you can turn the front rotors more quickly than the rear. The speed of the rotors is also no longer dependent on the engine or the ground speed of the tractor. This makes it easier to react quickly to different crop situations.
AGCO isn’t the only major OEM working on ways that electric power can be used in farm equipment. At the end of 2016, John Deere introduced a prototype for an all-electric tractor. Nicknamed SESAM (sustainable energy supply for agricultural machinery), the battery-powered tractor has all the functions and features of a standard tractor, yet it offers the benefits of electrification.
The tractor is modeled on John Deere’s 6R series tractors. Two electric motors operate an adapted DirectDrive transmission, producing 174 hp. of continuous power and peak power of 400 hp. One motor powers the drivetrain; the other motor is used for the PTO and auxiliaries. If necessary, both motors are linked to supply full power for driving or for
The SESAM tractor is emissions-free and runs at a lower noise level than traditional tractors.
According to a news release from John Deere, the tractor is an elementary component of John Deere’s vision of future energy autonomous farms. “The John Deere all-electric tractor was designed and created to help evaluate the feasibility of such a tractor and to demonstrate John Deere’s advanced, innovative expertise and capabilities in producing a battery-powered tractor for agricultural use,” the release stated.
For fieldwork applications, Stombaugh believes that the electrification solution will be practical much earlier than the battery solution.
“Longevity is the primary limitation for operating tractors with battery technology,” he says. “The tractors aren’t getting the hours typically needed to operate for a full day, so you’d have to stop and recharge.”
However, battery technology is an area that is continually improving, so new batteries that are smaller and last longer could make battery-powered tractors more feasible, points out Stombaugh.
In addition, battery-powered tractors could work well in other ag applications, such as for a chore tractor that is only used a few hours a day to feed livestock.
“The problem is the cost. That’s the trade-off,” he says. “There are applications where battery technology may be better suited, but are you willing to spend money on it?”
Bringing the price point down will be one of the main limiting factors for introducing more electric equipment into farming.
“The electric motors used have to be specialized for ag applications, so they have to be able to take dust and tolerate a wide range of temperatures,” notes Stombaugh. “Developing that technology and making it available at a larger volume with a price point that makes sense will take a while to mature.”