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Electric tractor technology moving fast

2.5 min read

The biggest advantage of diesel-powered engines? They work. With 100 years of experience and development behind diesel power, it’s a reliable and proven way to go. But there are a few reasons to at least consider alternatives. Some complicated technology is required to make new diesel engines generate the power we need and meet stringent emissions standards.

Electric motors are simple, have few moving parts and require little maintenance.

This includes special particulate exhaust filters, the injection of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) into the exhaust flow to reduce nitrous oxide emissions, and other pollutant-reducing engine modifications. The more complicated these engines become, the harder they can be to maintain and fix, especially when software-driven.

Simpler, quieter, lighter

Electric motors are simple, have few moving parts and require little maintenance. They are also quiet and because there are no fumes, electric tractors would improve working conditions when people are nearby. Vineyards, orchards and inside barns are prime examples. 

Lower horsepower

Although some companies are experimenting with electric tractors over 100 horsepower, the most likely entry point for electric power is in models used to perform tasks that don’t require a lot of horsepower. 

The development of electric tractors is moving quickly, both from traditional manufacturers like AGCO and John Deere, but also players who see an opportunity to introduce numerous innovations at the same time. 

Small and smart

A California-based company called Monarch Tractor plans to sell a fully electric, driver-optional, smart tractor integrated on a single platform. The 40-horsepower tractor takes four to five hours to charge and will be available in late 2021 for around $64,000.  

Many see farm equipment moving to a swarm model where numerous autonomous small-horsepower tractors or robots will replace larger, heavier, high-horsepower tractors. In this scenario, electric power makes much more sense with the potential for solar charging on the go. Electric drivetrains are more responsive, which improves precision autonomous operation. These smaller units will also cause less soil compaction. 

Battery tech is key

It really comes down to battery technology, which has come a long way in recent years. The performance of cordless tools is a great example. For electric tractors to truly become mainstream the battery needs to be powerful enough to do the work, provide a reasonable work interval, charge quickly, and last long enough to keep costs in line with traditional options.

Skeptical? It took many years for electric automobile manufacturers to address things like range, re-charge time, reliability and cost. It was a slow process, but electric cars have moved past the curiosity stage and are starting to sell.  With about 1.4 million electric vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2020, the trend line pegs sales at 6.9 million by 2025. 

From an AgriSuccess article by Peter Gredig.

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