Greener tractors for farmers

 When it comes to automotive related greenhouse gas emissions, most of the focus is on cars, planes, trucks, motorbikes and shipping.

A combustion engine often overlooked is the one present in a farmer’s most critical piece of equipment – the tractor. While a return to the horse and plough isn’t likely; there are some inroads being made in lightening a tractor’s carbon footprint and lessening other forms of tractor usage related air pollution – plus some other rather neat innovations.

Imagine a tractor that could run on power from the sun – or from water – or how about both? It’s not fantasy, it’s already a reality.

New Holland’s prototype NH2 tractor uses hydrogen fuel that can be created with renewable energy sources such as solar power. Burning hydrogen fuel creates zero carbon emissions – the only emissions are water vapour. Note: water vapor is also a greenhouse “gas”, but is relatively short lived.

One of the fantastic aspects of this innovation is that it could allow farmers to become energy independent. Often held to ransom to fuel prices, availability and having to cart fuel over sometimes very long distances, the concept of being able to generate all the fuel they need right on the premises has some farmers quite excited.

In the NH2 system, when the solar power setup used to generate the electricity to create the hydrogen isn’t in use for fuel making purposes, it could be supplying power to other farming operations, or even feeding it into the mains grid and generating additional revenue through feed in tariffs offered in many countries.

Sure, it needs water, but many farms have access to water that isn’t suitable for stock or human consumption – particularly in places like Australia. New Holland points out that the amount of water needed to create the hydrogen is less than what is required to process crude oil into gasoline.
In other developments from New Holland, their next generation of tractors offer a secondary “fuel” tank carrying a water-ammonia mix of diesel exhaust fluid.
A catalytic converter combined the exhaust fluid with nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, transforming them into nitrogen (not nitrous oxide, the greenhouse gas) and water vapor. New Holland says the new system, which will become a standard feature on large tractors from next year,  will emit approximately 99 per cent fewer air pollutants than a similarly sized New Holland tractor built in 1996.
I can’t say I understand all the ins and outs of the latter innovation and all that extra chemistry sounds a little ominous, but a hat tip to New Holland for taking what appears to be some solid steps in the right direction towards lightening the carbon footprint of farming – and helping to empower farmers. (Solar) power to the people!