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Tuesday September 27 2022

New Holland methane tractor – the future of alternative fuels for farmers?

Global tractor manufacturer New Holland Agriculture has launched a new methane-powered 180hp tractor and predicts that there will be a big rise in anaerobic digester plants on farms across the UK as farmers become the fuel producers of the future.

In a guest blog for Birch Solutions, David Redman, Tractor Product Specialist at New Holland Agriculture, explains why they have developed the new technology and discusses why biogas will become increasingly important as an alternative fuel source in the future.

First gas-powered tractor

Anaerobic digester plans are a solid investment for farmers. They produce biogas which can be used to generate electricity and heat, significantly cutting soaring energy bills, and they also provide a solution for disposing of farm waste, such as animal manures and slurries.

The leftover waste from an AD plant is also a rich digestible fertiliser that can then be used on crops.

It’s winning combination but New Holland have created another option to benefit farmers that means they can now power their tractors, the beating heart of any farming operation, with their AD plants.

David says: “We’ve been working on the methane-powered tractor project since 2013 and we first developed a four-cylinder engine powered by biogas to prove the concept. It has evolved from there and today we’ve now got a six-cylinder, 6.75-litre that’s the same as the diesel equivalent.”

The benefits of AD plants for farmers

New Holland have invested in the methane tractor project because they believe AD plants will become an integral part of farm operations around the UK, as they present a solid investment opportunity and provide solutions to a range of critical issues for farmers.

“There are more than 700 biogas plants in the UK now. If you look at Europe, and particularly France and Germany, they are way ahead of the curve, but we are rapidly catching up in the UK,” explains David.

“France and Germany are already using methane-powered machines in agriculture and this is a big opportunity for farmers in the UK, many of whom are already producing biogas.”

Making the switch to a biogas tractor

New Holland is confident that farmers will be keen to make the switch to biogas and has already attracted interest from a number of people across the UK.

David says: “New Holland was one the first manufacturers to adapt to AdBlue and it is now the norm across agriculture. We all have to look at alternative fuels not only from an environmental point of view, but also from a cost perspective too.

David Redman, New Holland.

“Farmers will embrace the changes, they always do.

“The methane tractor comes with the benefit of running costs being 30% lower than the diesel equivalent and emissions are reduced by 80%, There are huge environmental benefits.

“We have units sold to customers already. Biogas producers are obviously interested as it’s effectively free fuel for their tractors and farmers in general are interested as it ticks the environmental box.

“The vegetable producers are also looking at the tractor as a lot of supermarkets are pushing for net zero standards through their supply chains. These producers usually have AD plants or are in the process of developing them.”

Alternative fuels for farmers

Crucially, David says the farming industry is undergoing fundamental changes and alternative fuels will be key as farmers navigate rapidly changing legislation, soaring fuel and energy costs and growing environmental pressures. He also argues that the Government will be forced to support farmers to make the switch to alternative fuels.

He explains: “We are expecting to see a big rise in the number of AD plants across the UK. Farmers of the future will not only be food producers, they will be fuel producers too.

“Farmers will be taking food waste and powering their tractors as well as selling gas too.

“Alternative fuels is the big opportunity in agricultural machinery now. At one time the trend was air conditioning, then it was GPS, but net zero is the hot topic at the moment.

“The red diesel and white diesel situation is a nightmare and that means alternative fuels are really coming forward. Farmers are having to look much harder at the different fuel options and the Government needs to do more to help incentivise farmers to make that switch.”

Sourcing fuels for gas tractors

The good news is that farmers who haven’t yet invested in an anaerobic digester plant can still switch to the methane-powered tractor as they can consider using gas from a mains supply or even harvest gas from their slurry.

This will still need to be processed, but with new slurry pit legislation that will require slurry pits to be capped coming in soon, this will be another big area of opportunity for harnessing alternative fuels.

David concludes: “Fugitive methane could be a real opportunity for farmers. Under this method, slurry pits are capped and then the resulting gas is captured, cleaned and compressed so it can also be used as a fuel.

“Having said all of this, you don’t need a bio-digester or slurry pit to run the tractor. The tractors can also be run on liquid gas or compressed natural gas from the grid, should biogas be unavailable. You can also have a virtual pipeline in the form of a gas trailer on site and fill up from there.”