New Holland Agriculture's second-generation hydrogen-powered tractor

  • 19-Jan-2012 03:16 EST

Three methods are being evaluated to produce hydrogen for New Holland Agriculture's NH²: Electrolysis, biogas generation, and biomass fermentation.

“The new NH² has evolved from the concept tractor that won the Gold Innovation Medal at SIMA 2009,” said Riccardo Morselli, Innovation Product Development, New Holland Agriculture. “It was developed in collaboration with CRF, a process that has involved equipping the new machine with all of the features required to ensure it will deliver the kind of performance associated with a conventional diesel tractor, both in the field and on the road.”

Derived from the New Holland T6.140 production model, the new tractor will operate all the implements required for different operations: tillage, planting, baling, and front loader applications.

Compared to the first NH², the new model has fuel cells that deliver double the power, increased from 67 to 135 engine hp (50 to 100 kW), as there are now three stacks developing a total of 384 units (the first model had two stacks for a total of 256 units).

The number of onboard electric motors remains the same: one for traction and one to operate the PTO and auxiliary circuits, but their rated power and torque are doubled.

Each of the new electric motors has a power output of 135 hp (100 kW), with continuous torque of 700 lb·ft (949 N·m) and maximum torque of 887 lb·ft (1203 N·m). Top crankshaft speed is 3000 rpm, and efficiency at maximum power output is said by New Holland to be an impressive 96%.

To keep the increased number of fuel cells in operation and ensure the tractor can keep working longer (up to three hours, depending on the load), a larger hydrogen tank has been installed. The tank of the new NH² can hold 18 lb (8 kg) of hydrogen at a pressure of 5075 psi (350 bar), compared to 5 lb (2.3 kg) for the previous model.

Other new features include a 12 kW·h, 300-V battery, with peak power output of 50 kW; a new CVT, replacing the conventional manual gearbox; a suspended front axle; and the inclusion of front loader mounting points as standard.

Performance levels of the new NH² are more than equal to those of a tractor of similar size with a conventional engine. However, New Hollnad says "it offers one enormous advantage: it produces only heat and water vapor, no harmful exhaust emissions."

With a top speed of 31 mph (50 km/h), pulling power comparable to that of a standard 120-hp (89-kW) engine diesel tractor, and a hydraulic system that delivers a maximum of 30 gal/min (114 L/min)—the same as that of the T6.140 model from which it derives—the new hydrogen-powered NH² is "a genuine farm tractor, equally equipped and ready to work," says New Holland.

The operational debut of the new NH² is scheduled for the summer of 2012 on the La Bellotta farm in Venaria, Italy, New Holland's first Energy Independent Farm. This concept is based on the ability of farms to produce electrical energy from natural sources that have a low environmental impact and to store it conveniently in the form of hydrogen for subsequent reuse.

The project, initiated by New Holland and implemented in collaboration with a consortium of 13 partners including API-COM, CNR, CRF, Elasis, ENEA, Envi-Park, Ferrari Costruzioni Meccaniche, Roter Italia, Sapio Verderone, Tonutti, and Zefiro, is partly funded by the Italian Ministry for Economic Development.

Three methods are being evaluated for the actual production of hydrogen.

First is the electrolysis of water, its decompositon into oxygen and hydrogen, using electrical energy produced by a solar electrical panel system already installed on the farm.

The second method is that of small-scale, steam-reforming natural gas. Should this prove practically feasible and economically viable, it would be possible to use the methane produced by the biodigesters of the 1 MW biogas generator that has been in operation at La Bellotta for over a year.

The third method of producing hydrogen, and the most innovative of all, says New Holland, is that of exploiting the dark anaerobic fermentation of biomass: a biological process generating a blend of gases that contains a significant proportion of hydrogen. This method will also be evaluated in terms of feasibility, costs, and benefits.

A hydrogen storage tank will be installed on-site, connected to the compressor at a special filling station, so the NH² can operate and refuel on the farm just like a conventional tractor.

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