New Holland has been pursuing alternate fuel possibilities for more than a decade. In 2006 it became the first ag equipment brand to announce its engines were fully compatible with 100 per cent biodiesel.
In 2009 it first showed the world its hydrogen powered NH2 concept tractor at the SIMA machinery show in Paris, France.
By 2013 it had another alternative fuel concept tractor to show the world: this time using methane for power. This past November the latest version of that concept machine was on display at Agritechnica 2017, after also making an earlier appearance in August at the U.S. Farm Progress Show. And this latest version has some very obvious changes from its ancestor.
“The main difference you see is the design,” said New Holland’s Thomas Bart. “It’s a little futuristic now.”
It’s hard to argue that point. The 180-horsepower tractor has a streamlined design, which makes one wonder if that look will eventually become the brand’s “family” design for tractors. There was no word of that happening, but the interest from show goers in getting a close look at this machine was definitely high. It attracted sizeable crowds.
But there is more to this updated version than its sleek good looks.
“The second difference is the concept of the tank construction,” Bart added. “In the first generation we had cylinders that were mainly fitted at the back of the cab. On this version we changed from cylinders to tubes and pipes. So that gives us very much more flexibility to install the gas storage. We can install that everywhere we have some space. And that gives us much more capacity.”
One of those storage locations is the streamlined tank hanging off the front of the tractor where front suitcase weights are hung on standard models if needed. That change allows for a much higher fuel-carrying capacity allowing the tractor to stay in the field at least as long as a comparable diesel.
“That was the intention,” he added. “It was a must, we might say. It’s a 180-horsepower tractor so it should be the same as a 180-horsepower diesel tractor with the same running time.”
Under the hood
The tractor is built on a standard T6 Series chassis. Under the hood is one of FPT’s (Fiat Powertrain’s) turbocharged 6.7 litre engines. It’s one of the company’s diesels, with a modified cylinder head to allow it to run on gas.
The tractor is designed to be equipped with one of the brand’s 40 or 50 km/h-capable ECO transmissions. Hydraulic flow maxes out at 113 l/min.
To keep the operator comfortable it’s equipped with a “Horizon” suspended cab. But its really like no other cab in the brand’s line, making the tractor as futuristic looking inside as it is outside. There’s a unique leaf-shaped seat and redesigned integrated armrest with joystick control and monitor screen. Other controls are on an interactive headliner display. NH refers to the cab interior as a “clutter-free design.” The “wraparound” bodywork on the cab allows for almost 360-degree visibility, which is a significant improvement over the initial prototype, and includes up to 20 per cent more glass area than NH’s standard models.
This tractor is a big part of the Energy Independent Farm System NH established in northern Italy at the same time the tractor was introduced. The idea was to create an energy-independent operation, where tractor fuel and electricity are produced on site. Special crops grown for the purpose along with manure and organic waste are put into an on-farm biodigester to produce methane. The methane is then refined onsite and used to power the tractor and an electrical generator for electricity and heat in the farm buildings. Biodigester waste is spread on fields as fertilizer.
Aside from energy independence, the tractor delivers engine performance comparable to a similar sized diesel while virtually eliminating CO2 emissions. And, according to the company, should also result in a 30 per cent savings in running costs.
Bart said the methane tractor is still about three years out from seeing commercial production, and the brand hopes to offer a range of models.
“Now we have just one, but the intention is to have a range from about 100 to 200 horsepower.”
And will the production models keep that same futuristic look?
“I hope so,” said Bart. “Because it looks beautiful.”
The hydrogen-powered NH2
New Holland first introduced its prototype NH2 hydrogen-powered tractor at the SIMA farm equipment show in Paris, France, in 2009, making it the first tractor ever publicly shown by a major brand that used hydrogen fuel-cell technology. It made another appearance at Germany’s Agritechnica in 2011.
By 2011 engineers had made a lot of driveline changes based on their experience with the original model. “This one has a more definitive component arrangement,” said Ulrich Weller, a product rep for New Holland, at that 2011 exhibition.
The cab interior was still a work in progress, so the company opted to black out the glass while it was on display. The cab’s exterior styling along with the overall bodylines had changed significantly, giving this prototype a completely different appearance from the original version.
Hydrogen storage technology had been steadily improving since the original prototype was built and this tractor took advantage of that with three new fuel cells that offered 340 litres of combined capacity.
The previous design only included two. Unfortunately, the effective working range was still limited to about two to three hours. That problem makes the methane concept tractor much more practical for the immediate future, and may explain why the NH2 has been omitted from the brand’s major public displays in recent years.