Electrified by the future

Anyone with passion or curiosity for the world of motors and cars, is witnessing today, maybe incredulous, maybe skeptical, the electric car revolution.

Only two years ago nobody was expecting the speeding up we are seeing today. By taking advantage from incentives in Nordic countries and from impositions in China, the car world has espoused the electric car revolution and today we are seeing the birth of a new market, the market of components for the electric car. It is nevertheless worthwhile thinking about the same kind of revolution applied to the agricultural machinery. Do we have to expect that it will impact also on agricultural machinery world? It is difficult to envisage a technological change as fast as it occurred in the car world, but for sure many changes are already coming. Does it make any sense to speak about electric tractors or maybe it is more likely that we will get to hybrid solutions? No one knows the answer, but certainly there are classes of tractors intended for mixed use where the application of hybrid systems would offer some advantage, with appreciable savings of fuel though not so impressive. While it is indeed worth focusing on implements. As for implements, why, on the contrary, could the electric tractors revolution be really profitable? There are many reasons for this: first of all, when not in use, electric engines can be switched off, while if we consider hydraulic systems connected to a driveshaft or the total bypass flow, or variable capacity pumps, they always work, even when not requesting hydraulic power. Moreover, the efficiency of an electric engine is considerably higher than the efficiency of a hydraulic system, with constant torque over a very wide RPM range. Electric engines ensure above all a finer adjustment that is, in fact, the only solution for some precision farming applications (e.g. seeding). In concrete terms implements electrification is the enabler of precision farming because it simplifies both variable rate application and implementation of section control that are the two main pillars of precision farming. If the market starts to adopt precision farming applications, we have to expect that also tractors will change and will become for sure electric power sources that will be used by electrified implements. Tractors will thus be equipped with electric power generators, useful for the functioning of implements. The PTO shaft will lose its importance while high electric power connections and networks will increase.

Is there an international vision of his? Yes, there is. With regard to competitive and regulatory development, AEF has, for many years, been running a permanent working group called “Tractor Electrification” whit the aim to study new solutions for the connection between implements and electric power sources generated in the tractor. They talk about generators powered by the diesel engines of tractors and this because it becomes clear at all levels that the electrified implement has important advantages.

Now it is up to us, research, industry, education, to decide to embrace this opportunity and acquire knowledge, create new products and gain a share of this new and interesting market for precision agriculture, seeing change as an interesting challenge and a great opportunity.

Massimiliano Ruggeri

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