Electric and hydrogen drivetrains for tractors

Electric and hydrogen drivetrains are just a few of the alternative propulsion systems found in modern farming. A major reason for the growing interest in alternative drives and fuels is the pressure to significantly reduce greenhouse gases. To meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, CO2 emissions must be reduced rapidly and drastically.

Diesel has traditionally been the energy supply of choice for agricultural machinery – with the associated harmful environmental effects. However, greenhouse gas emissions from machinery cannot be sufficiently reduced by improvements to conventional drive technology alone. The transition from fossil fuels to renewable fuels is imperative.

Agritechnica 2023, 12-18 November, in Hanover, Germany, reflects this development and presents state-of-the-art alternative drive systems for agricultural machinery. At the world’s leading trade fair for agricultural machinery, exhibitors will not only be displaying their innovations at their stands. At the exhibition grounds, for the first time, selected exhibitors will be presenting alternative drive systems in the exclusive Drive Experience outdoor area.


An overview of alternative drive technology:


Hydrogen is a possible substitute for diesel for agricultural vehicles. As hydrogen is carbon-free, its use does not produce any climate-damaging CO2 emissions. However, as its production is energy intensive, a prerequisite for its meaningful use is that this energy comes from renewable sources.

The use of hydrogen in a fuel cell is a special form of electric drive. In contrast to a conventional electric drive where the battery is charged from external sources, the electrical energy to move the vehicle is generated by the fuel cell. Several concept tractors have been presented with fuel cells as their main power source over the years, but none have yet made it into commercial use.

Several important factors stand in the way of fuel cells in agriculture: Firstly, there is the challenge of getting enough energy into a standard tractor. The compressed hydrogen pressure vessels need significant space. Using current solutions, a tractor cannot operate at full load for several hours. Additionally, a fuel cell drive requires components that take up space, such as the cooling system, inverter and buffer battery. The latter is needed to support the relatively slow and unresponsive fuel cell. Additionally, a network of hydrogen refueling stations must be created, geared to agriculture. Last but not least, the manufacturing costs for the entire system are still very high.


Methane is another gaseous fuel that is the focus of attention, as no more greenhouse gases are released during burning as were used during plant growth. The goal is to make the entire process chain and its production CO2-neutral.

Methane can be part of the solution for agriculture. Raw biogas, produced in biogas plants, cannot be used directly as a fuel but must first be desulfurized and the CO2 scrubbed from the methane. The final product is close to pure methane, which is then liquefied or compressed.




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