The biogas powered tractors can emit far fewer pollutants, bring fuel cost savings and could offer energy independence for farms.
The new prototype tractor being tested will run on farm waste from 1000 dairy cows. It has been developed by New Holland Agriculture for its pollution-busting and fuel saving benefits. The tractor can run entirely on bio-methane derived from waste and produced by on-farm biogas anaerobic digester plants. It could reduce polluting emissions by 80% and offer fuel cost savings of between 25 and 40%.
Wyke Farms in Bruton, Somerset has been producing cheddar cheese and other dairy products for over 150 years and has embedded a '100% Green' initiative into its business which has recently earned it a handful of awards. Their farms are now set to achieve total energy independence.
The farm's biogas plant plays a big part in meeting its sustainability objectives, with three large anaerobic digesters producing electricity for the farm and factory. The resulting gas is cleaned up and used to power the farm's boilers, with excess sold back to the grid to serve the local community.
The digesters are fed entirely from waste; including slurry from the farm's 1000 dairy cows, local cider apple waste, and other waste not fit for human or animal consumption.
The farm runs three electric cars and in the future could run its tankers on compressed natural gas (CNG) produced by the biogas plant. Having a compression plant on-site would also give Wyke Farms the opportunity to invest in tractors powered by methane – giving them complete energy independence on the farm.
The methane powered tractor has been developed by New Holland as a sustainable solution to the increasing cost of fuel. As the number of on-farm biogas plants in the UK increases, there could be an ample supply of fuel on the doorstep.
New Holland's methane tractor borrows from commercial vehicle technology already used by its sister brand, Iveco. The use of compressed natural gas in vans, trucks and buses is well developed and limited only by storage capacity on the vehicle. The company has managed to squeeze 300L (52kg) of compressed methane into nine tanks around the tractor; enough for around six hours of work depending on the type of activity. Refuelling is quick, taking around the same time to fill as with diesel.
Roger Clothier, Wyke Farms' Farm Director who is testing the prototype tractor said: "On first impression it looks and feels just like a normal tractor when you jump in the cab. It easily managed to tow a full slurry tanker up and down the hills here – with a combined tractor and tanker weight of 27 tonnes.
"We need fuel efficient vehicles with a good power to weight ratio to pull heavy tanks around the farm – the tractor has the power to do it and if we're able to compress our gas on-site it looks like it could save us money.
"In the future, sharing of gas power between local farms could be a possibility, particularly where you have a big plant like ours. Providing a local filling point for neighbouring farms makes economic sense and the associated savings from methane-powered tractors could help dairy farmers reduce their costs, which can only be a good thing."
Adapting existing engine technology, fitting a small three-way catalytic converter and housing it within a standard tractor chassis and cab means that that the methane tractor looks and drives just like a diesel-powered tractor, and the cost of buying one should be about the same.
After a week of testing in the UK, the tractor will tour other European markets where it will undergo further testing and evaluation before returning to its home in Italy at La Bellotta, New Holland's 'Energy Independent Farm', where the company has been working towards its Clean Energy Leader strategy for the past 10 years.
New Holland Agriculture
Wyke Farms - 100% Green
La Bellotta, New Holland's 'Energy Independent Farm'