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Future fuels for farm vehicles. How methane and hydrogen are playing their part.

By September 20, 2023 No Comments

The future of farming and agriculture is changing. With a global need for reductions in GHGs being addressed internationally, every single sector must have a decarbonisation plan.

Despite the majority of emissions from agriculture being emitted from food production and livestock, the machinery which supports the worlds farming communities is also under the spotlight.

Josef Diesel’s novel discovery at the turn of the 20thC was quickly picked up by the farming communities due to its heavy duty applications. Diesel offered a one size fits all solution for agriculture, construction and the heavy-duty sector. However, in a carbon neutral future this won’t work and alternatives need to be found to support the decarbonisation of these challenging but vital sectors.

There are already numerous alternatives to diesel being developed and many are already in use. Alternative fuels such as electricity from hydro, biogas, wind and solar PV, biomass energy, biomethane and in the future hydrogen will also be in play.

This year’s Cenex Low Carbon Vehicle (LCV) and Connected Automated Mobility (CAM) event turned the focus on farming and farming methods, showcasing a broad selection of machinery and fuel innovations being researched and developed in the farming and agriculture sectors.

One of the dominating features of the LCV farming showcase were the New Holland T6 tractors. These tractors are one of the innovations already being produced to reduce emissions and they run on methane.

This year’s LCV seminar programme gave attendees an opportunity to engage directly with those at the heart of farming innovations and find out more about how the farming communities are tackling their part in reducing GHG emissions.

During the ‘Future of Farming’ seminar, Steve Carroll – Head of Transport at Cenex – spoke about how the policies for reductions in GHGs in farming are primarily focussed on the outcomes, namely soil, crops, the food supply chain and cattle/dairy farming. With 90-95% of methane from cattle farming being emitted through a cow’s burps and only 5-10% from flatulence, it poses challenges in how to reduce these emissions alongside the considerations for the farm machinery as well.

However, Steve recognised and acknowledged that there is a real need for transferable technology in the farming and agriculture sectors to drive the innovations in the supply chains and in the transport options.

Note: Technology to reduce cows burps by using a seaweed-based food additive have already achieved global investment.

As part of the ‘Future of Farming’ seminar, Alistair Walshaw – CNH Industrial – explored the work CNH, New Holland and Bennamann Ltd have been working on with the T6 tractor.

When CNH were originally looking at the investment required to support the decarbonisation of agriculture and farming, hydrogen was one of their initial future fuel choices. With this in mind, a hydrogen production test was developed in Italy whereby a farmer was provided with hydrogen for his farm vehicles. The farmer advised developers of the test that as he had access to an abundance of free methane, why couldn’t they use that?

It was this change in tactic which lead CNH Industrial to develop the New Holland T6 methane powered tractor.

Alistair explained that tractors are all built differently for different applications and therefore electric batteries or hydrogen tanks would take up too much space on a vehicle adding unnecessary weight.

The technology surrounding the capture of methane and turning it into a sustainable fuel for farming and farm machinery comes from Cornish company Bennamann Ltd, now a part of the CNH Industrial portfolio.

The process sees dairy farmers covering cow manure slurries and capturing the methane as it expands. The methane is then processed into a usable fuel and pumped back into the methane tractor.  Methane, recognised as the most harmful GHG, may not be a perfect solution, but in use it is recycling the gas and proposes a sustainable and readily available option for farmers and can benefit the circular economy.

However, another contender in the vast field of future fuels for farming and agriculture is hydrogen. Hydrogens versatility and adaptability allows it to either be used in an ICE or fuel cell. With many farms already generating renewable electricity from solar, wind and in some cases biogas and anaerobic digestion; their ability to generate surplus renewable energy also means they may be able to produce hydrogen via an electrolyser.

With the hydrogen economy still being in it’s infancy, the investment into the UK hydrogen infrastructure (storage and transportation still being a national stumbling block) is still very much needed to make hydrogen a viable and usable alternative for the heavy-duty sectors.

Undeterred by the challenges posed by the current lack of hydrogen infrastructure, UK manufacturer JCB have already developed a hydrogen ICE. The H2 ICE has already been fitted into the JCB back-hoe loader and is already commercially available. JCB also had a representation of their hydrogen ICE engine demonstrator at LCV, exploring how it can be developed to fit a wide variety of vehicles for the farming, agriculture, construction and heavy-duty sectors.

Farming and agriculture need to find ways to support the decarbonisation of their sector and take action to eradicate their collective emissions from food production and livestock. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy report identified that the combined methane emissions from five of the largest meat corporations and ten of the largest dairy corporations are roughly 12.8 million tonnes. This figure equates to over 80% of the European Union’s entire methane footprint.

With these vast emissions in play, it is no wonder that innovations in farming and agriculture machinery are rolling out now, with a view to a larger variety of future fuel innovations seeking to mitigate climate impact in the future.

Written by Katy mason for and on behalf of Dolphin N2.