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How will tractors of the future be fuelled?

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Tractors will feature more and more innovative technologies and use a mix of different fuel types in the future, driven by the global aim to reduce harmful GHG emissions and boost farming productivity.  

A steep rise in the use of autonomous tractors and robotics on farms is expected, as well as a greater number of machines designed for specific purposes. According to Mike Woollacott, MD of GreenWatt Technology, they will be fuelled by a combination of renewable electricity, biomethane and hydrogen, in order to reduce emissions in line with our environmental targets.

Applications for onfarm renewable energy

The latest low/zero carbon transport solutions will be showcased within the exhibition at The Low Carbon Agriculture Show, taking place on 8th & 9th March at NAEC Stoneleigh, which also focusses on renewable energy generation & optimisation, effective energy management, sustainable farming and environmental land management. The multi-streamed conference programme running alongside will include a dedicated session on the subject, providing information on the sector’s development and guidance on the related opportunities available.

Mike, who will be delivering a presentation on the applications for on farm renewable energy, including uses as a fuel for tractors, machinery and other transport solutions said:

“Tractors below 50 horsepower can be battery-powered, and I see these being multi-tooled, with bolt on and off systems and predict there will be a rise of smaller machines and robots specifically developed for precision techniques.

“For larger vehicles, if we can’t replace a high-power fuel like diesel with a battery, we need something that can replace it. Hydrogen has the power. However, there are some caveats; Hydrogen has supply limitations, also hydrogen fuel cell powered systems may not be ideally suited to operate well under vibration and dusty field conditions.”

Mike will also be exploring the prospect of farmers producing hydrogen from renewable electricity via a process of electrolysis, but warns that current costs are high for electrolysis at farm scale and that further development is required, including a possible hydrogen/battery hybrid. 

“Biomethane sourced from upgraded biogas from on farm AD plants is already available but this solution depends on access to gas powered tractors and enough AD units,” he said.

Latest battery tech and alternative fuels

Neil Wallis of the Zemo Partnership, feels that advances made in both the cost and efficiency of  batteries and alternative fuels in the automotive industry will benefit the development of tractors and other agricultural machinery.

“Enabling sustainable farm production – using less energy and inputs – is expected to be a core tenet of future product design. Farmers will be encouraged to move away from heavier equipment to help reduce soil compaction, allowing fields to absorb and sequester more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said Neil.

“There are an array of opportunities connected with the production of renewable energy, especially wind and solar, by farmers which, ultimately may be used in transport, either directly as electricity or renewably-sourced hydrogen.” he added.

Charging of EVs

Another opportunity available to farmers is becoming part of the EV charging network, in which agriculture is expected to play a central role. Lisa Howkins of NFU Energy explains:

“Research has shown that if we are to meet demand and hit decarbonisation targets, the UK needs to be installing 40-50 new chargers every day for the next 10 years (based on the most recent electric car count from New Automotive).

“To help every farmer in the UK become part of a net zero sector by 2040, NFU Energy has launched its Renewable Energy Solutions and Electric Vehicles services.

“We have partnered with three specialists in this area to ensure we can cater for the entire farming community. Our services cover, standalone chargers, multiple same-site chargers, and land-leasing arrangements, giving landowners the opportunity to earn a rental income. Our offering provides EV drivers access to the fastest charging available,” she said.

Lisa will be taking part in a conference session dedicated to low-emission vehicles & machinery at the Low Carbon Agriculture Show 2022. Chaired by James McGeachie, technical and programme director at Zemo Partnership, the session will consist of:

  • Matt Edwards, senior policy advisor at the department for transport, will explain Government’s plan to decarbonise our transport system. 
  • Lisa Howkins, Sales and marketing director, NFU Energy, will outline the feasibility and opportunities associated with EV charging;
  • Gareth Deakin, senor project delivery lead at APC UK, will be taking a closer look at the methane powered tractor.

In the exhibition, Offroad Electric will be showcasing the Electric UBCO 2WD work bikes, the Eco Charger 2DW and 4DW quad bikes, the Electric HiSun 4WD UTV / Work Buggy and also on display will be the electric Farmtrac tractor distributed Reesink Agriculture. Listers will be showcasing the Toyota Proace and the RAV4 plug-in hybrid, while EMotive Technology will be displaying its fully electric offroad vehicle.

Visit to learn more and book your free place.


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