The electrification trend is clearly impacting the automotive industry’s reliance on internal combustion engines (ICE). It is even affecting change in off-road segments, such as construction. With the growing use of precision agriculture technology, and focus on optimizing farm management, it only seems natural to wonder about the potential for electric agricultural equipment.
Download our white paper Off-Road Trends: Driving Cleaner, More Efficient and Connected Machinery, and learn what influences the advances in mobile heavy machinery.
On farms across North America and the world, the diesel ICE has been the powerplant of choice for decades. Diesel offers high levels of power and torque relative to weight and volume, which is necessary for many of the massive tractors and other powered equipment used in modern farming.
Precision agriculture and other trends, however, have prompted OEMs to start rethinking their complete reliance on diesel. Some are starting to introduce electric agricultural equipment, with auxiliary equipment possibly being where we see the most growth in the near future.
Several original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have introduced electric tractors, including John Deere, Seletrac, Rigitrac, and Agco/Fendt. But for the largest equipment categories, electric motors have not yet replaced diesel engines due to insufficient battery power for the torque required. Battery packs also are difficult to charge in remote locations and during long hours in the fields. Electric motors are more often seen in non-mobile agricultural applications such as driving pumps, for instance, or for running some of the smaller, autonomous equipment used in farm management.
Farm equipment OEMs, unlike other OEMs, are also not under high levels of environmental regulatory pressure to make the switch to producing all-electric agricultural equipment. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted its Tier 4 emission standards in 2015, it excluded existing equipment up to 30 years old. OEMs were able to redesign new diesel engines to comply with the standards.
As stated in a 2020 article by the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association:
There are many benefits of replacing diesel motors with electric motors. Highly efficient electric motors can operate at 90% efficiency, which helps to provide cost savings over time, compared to inefficient diesel motors that only operate at 30% to 40% efficiency. Farmers can simply plug in the electric equipment without needing to refill a diesel tank. One of the greatest benefits of electric motors is they do not emit fumes like diesel motors, which means farmers get to breathe in cleaner air around them. Overall, electric motors are cleaner, quieter, and easier to maintain. Some farmers are making the switch to electric tractors as companies like John Deere, AGCO, and other companies continue to perfect their own electric models. While electric tractors are more efficient, quieter, and better for the environment than conventional diesel tractors, they lack the battery power that many farmers need for a long day of working in the fields.
The full electrification of the largest farm equipment may be off in the future, but there are currently large equipment applications where electrification makes sense. One trend is the replacement of hydraulic systems used to run auxiliary equipment and implements with electric motors.
To learn more about the trend of precision agriculture and how Parker plays a key role, read our Off-Road Trends White Paper.
This article was contributed by the Hydraulics team.
Related, helpful content for you: