Technology: Gas-producing farm tests ‘gas’ tractor

The methane tractor is an attractive idea for environment-conscious farmers, offering an 80% reduction in polluting emissions, cutting fuel costs, and lowering their carbon footprint.
Technology: Gas-producing farm tests ‘gas’ tractor

New Holland’s second generation T6.180 Methane Power tractor was tested recently by Wyke Farms in Somerset, one of the UK’s biggest cheddar cheese producers.

The methane tractor looks and drives like a diesel-powered tractor, while more than complying with the current Tier 4B emissions legislation (thanks to fitting a small three-way catalytic converter).

However, on the Wyke Farms tractor, some of the gas cylinders were in the cab’s rear pillars, and drivers found these restricted rear visibility, and made the cab feel a little smaller and darker than usual.

New Holland squeezed 300 litres (52kg) of compressed methane into nine tanks around the tractor, enough for about six hours of work.

In the cab, the layout of controls is much the same as a diesel-powered T6, with a methane tank monitor to driver’s right.

At Wyke Farms, the prototype tractor was put through its paces with a slurry tanker.

Wyke Farms’ Director Roger Clothier said, “My first impression is that this looks and feels just like a normal tractor. With a combined gross weight of 27 tonnes, the tractor and fully loaded tanker was a little slow to get off the line, but once moving, the tractor came alive. Engine braking downhill was good, and there was plenty of power in the mid-range and top-end, with no torque issues when going uphill, it drove just like a diesel.”

The T6.180 Methane Power prototype offers up to 179 horse power.

Wyke Farms achieved around four and a half to five hours of tanker transport work.

Roger said that while a comparable diesel tractor would work for longer on one tank of fuel, refilling the methane tractor wasn’t too much of an issue.

Increasing the running time requires more gas cylinder storage.

That is difficult to achieve with current cylinder shape and technology, but New Holland is looking at maybe adding tanks to the front ballast and on towed implements.

Wyke Farms uses around 12,000 litres of diesel a month, at a cost of £4,000.

Running costs for the T6.180 Methane Power tractor were difficult to judge; however, New Holland estimates that fuel cost savings of 25 to 40% could be achieved.

And the AdBlue additive which converts harmful nitrogen oxides from diesel vehicle exhaust into harmless nitrogen and steam, is not required on the Methane Power tractor.

The Wyke Farms test tractor was refuelled from an on-site compressed natural gas (CNG) tanker— even though this farm produces biogas from its 1,000 dairy cows, local cider waste, and other suitable materials.

To make their biogas suitable for use in engines,Wyke Farms would need to invest in a compressing plant. The alternative is to use gas from the CNG distribution network.

Meanwhile, New Holland’s Clean Energy Leader strategy, including methane tractors, continues.

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