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Farming for cleaner fuel: new Holland develops energy independent farm concept with fuel cell tractor.


Some experts believe that someday a great portion of the world's energy needs will be met by solar and wind power. Since solar panels and wind turbines, by necessity, will be located long distances from large population centers, a large investment will be required to build an infrastructure to transport the electric power.

However, the energy generated from wind and sun could be used right at the source of the power. Farms, for instance, often see an abundance of wind, sun or both, as well as space for photovoltaic panels and wind turbines. These energy technologies could then employ electrolysis to create hydrogen from water, developing a local fuel source to supply hydrogen fuel cell-powered agricultural equipment--both mobile and stationary.

This is the aim of New Holland's Energy Independent Farm concept and the New Holland N[H.sub.2], billed as the world's first hydrogen-powered tractor. Allis-Chalmers built a fuel cell-powered tractor exactly 50 years ago in 1959. However, rather than hydrogen, a mixture of gases--largely propane--fueled the cells. After successfully plowing a field of alfalfa, it was retired to the Smithsonian.

The New Holland N[H.sub.2] fuel cell tractor debuted in Italy and garnered a Gold Medal at the SIMA Innovation Awards 2009 in Paris. The prototype zero-emissions tractor is based on the New Holland T6000 Series midsized tractor. Fuel cells, replacing the combustion engine, provide electricity to power the 106 hp electric motor, which drives all four wheels and the tractor's auxiliary systems. Compressed hydrogen stored in a tank on the tractor reacts with oxygen drawn from the air to produce electricity.

The N[H.sub.2] fuel cell tractor is a working prototype, and New Holland said a lot of development is still needed before a fuel cell tractor is ready for market, which the company said could be in about 2013. Challenges include limited operating time between hydrogen refills and the tractor's higher cost. The hydrogen tank on the N[H.sub.2] can only hold enough fuel to power the tractor for one and one-half to two hours. Like many of the technical details, New Holland is not talking about its price yet, but it is estimated that the fuel cells alone cost about $375,000.

Besides potentially cutting fuel costs, a fuel cell tractor is designed to eliminate nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and carbon dioxide emissions while operating virtually silently. Plus, a fuel cell generates less heat than an internal combustion engine, New Holland said.

On a wider scale, other alternative and renewable fuels could be produced and used on farms. This includes ethanol and other alcohol-based fuels produced from farm crops, or biodiesel from crops and waste materials. By producing and using biofuels within a farm, no additional energy would be needed to transport the fuel to other locations, increasing the benefits of the biofuel.

Besides the fuel cell tractor, New Holland and other manufacturers already offer equipment that can operate on B100. Some farmers are already using "homebrew" biodiesel. Ethanol is also another viable option--early Ford tractors and Model Ts were designed to run on alcohol produced by farmers.

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Author:Siuru, Bill
Publication:Diesel Progress North American Edition
Date:May 1, 2009
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