New Holland Unveils "Farm Ready" Hydrogen Tractor For Italian Test Run

It was once dreamed that farmers would be able to fuel their vehicles off the very land they tilled. Indeed, some farmers these days do just that, whether it be ethanol, biodiesel or biogas. New Holland is offering farmers another, even-cleaner option; a “farm ready” tractor powered by hydrogen.

The NH2 Tractor is a “farm ready” version of a concept that debuted in 2009, but with double the power, up from 50kw/67hp to 100kw/134hp. It also has double the torque, despite still having just two electric motors, one for traction and one to operate PTO, or power take-off (where you hook up different attachments for different jobs.) New Holland also increased the hydrogen tank size, from from 2.4kg to 8.2kg, providing up to three hours of continuous use. I don’t know how that compares to a standard tractor, so if anyone with more experience wants to chime in, feel free.

Of course, that also begs the question; where will these tractors fuel up? New Holland will begin testing its super-clean tractors at “La Bellotta,” the first “energy independent” farm in Turin, Italy next summer. An “energy independent farm” is one that relys on natural forces to provide all of its energy and fuel usage. For the hydrogen tractor, New Holland is exploring three hydrogen fuel-production efforts.

First is the electrolysis of water, via solar power, an idea being bandied about for an American hydrogen highway as well.

The second method uses steam-reformed natural gas to produce hydrogen. The theory behind this idea is that natural gas from animal droppings (i.e. “biogas”)  that is already used in the MegaWatt biogas generators at Le Bellotta, could also be used to make hydrogen fuel. Producing it on site also eliminates the expensive hydrogen infrastructure

The third, and most out-there method of producing hydrogen on-site involves exploiting the dark anaerobic fermentation of biomass. Basically, breaking down biomass so that when it breaks down, it forms a number of natural gases, among them a large amount of hydrogen. All three methods will be evaluated for their economic feasibility, though method number 2 (stream-reforming natural gas) sounds the most promising to me.

The idea of self-sustaining farms is more than a good idea; it is practically a necessity in the 21st century. As numerous natural disasters in 2011 have made painfully obvious, globalization has led to the creation of fragile, last-minute supply chains. Nevermind the fact that when oil prices go up, so does food. But with a self-sustaining farm network, food prices would be less-impacted by the price of oil (though there is still the cost of transportation

But can New Holland make a hydrogen tractor affordable? More to the point, can they make owning one practical, or is this just a bunch of showmanship? We’ll find out as the test run proceeds.

Source: New Holland

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.