Are you planning on buying a new tractor, combine or other self-propelled farm machine with more than 175 horsepower in 2011? If you are, be prepared for some serious sticker shock. Prices are set to jump significantly next year.
According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, all new diesel engines over 175 horsepower installed in farm equipment after January 2011 first must comply with Interim Tier 4 exhaust-emissions limits. While that is good news for the environment, it’s bad news for farmers’ bank accounts. The cost increase associated with these engines could be huge. And it will likely cause one of the largest single-year price spikes seen in the new equipment market in decades.
“What the industry seems to be expecting is about a 10 to 12 per cent increase because of Interim Tier 4,” says Adam Reid, Buhler Industries’ marketing manager for the Versatile tractor brand. “We haven’t announced our final pricing yet, but it sounds like that number could be well in line. We’re still going through the numbers to see what the additional technology from Cummins is costing us.” Versatile uses engines supplied by Indiana-based Cummins Inc.
Speaking in an interview in July, Claas of America’s president Russ Green, said some of the speculation in the industry at that time pegged the potential cost increases even higher. He had heard estimates ranging as high as 22 per cent when applied to combines. But like Versatile, Claas has yet to decide on its pricing for Interim Tier 4-compliant machines. In fact, at the time of writing this article, no major manufacturer had yet released their 2011 retail prices.
U.S. Farmers in the market for new tractors and combines are flocking to dealerships to snap up a lower-cost Tier 3 machine while they have the chance. According to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), August sales numbers were up substantially across the U.S. Rigid-frame tractor models above 100 horsepower saw an incredible 48.8 per cent rise over the same month in 2009. Four-wheel drive tractors jumped 9.5 per cent, while combine sales climbed 9.9 per cent. September numbers continued to show similar increases.
But the story is different in Canada, even though farmers here will face the same price increases. AEM reports year-to-date sales are up over 2009, but the numbers lag well behind U.S. figures. “The U.S. has been talking about this — these upcoming rules — and what it means to the farmers for a year and a half,” says Reid. “I think we’re a little bit behind in terms of spreading the word in Canada, but I do expect there’ll be a run on new Tier 3 tractors. In January, the availability of new Tier 3 tractors will lessen and Tier 4 will take over.”
Manufacturers will still be able to sell any existing inventories of Tier 3-equipped tractors even after the 2011 implementation date. The U.S. EPA gave American tractor builders some options for slowly phasing in Interim Tier 4 engine production, even after the deadline. But farmers who want a new machine without paying for the new technology will certainly face increasingly limited choices over the next few months.
COOLED EXHAUST OR CATALYTIC REDUCTION?
After the last of the Tier 3 machines is spoken for, farmers will need to do some extra homework before making a buying decision. Engine builders have chosen two different paths in order to meet the new, much tougher, emissions standard. Both require treating engine exhaust. Deciding which method best fits your operation will be the first step. To do that, you’ll have to choose between CEGR (cooled exhaust gas recirculation) and SCR (selective catalytic reduction) technology.
When it comes to emissions, or pollutants, if you prefer, there are two main ones coming out of a diesel’s exhaust pipe: particulate matter (PM) and NOx (nitrogen oxides). Tuning an engine to minimize one results in an increase in the other.
Here’s a basic look at how each system works. First, lets look at CEGR.
Exhaust gas recirculation has been around since the 1970s when Detroit automakers used the idea to reduce tailpipe emissions on cars. Today, the technology has been refined with a few additional components. A portion of the exhaust coming from the engine is rerouted. After being cooled, it is fed back into the cylinders, using a variable- rate turbocharger to adjust the concentration as necessary.
That reduces the amount of oxygen in the cylinders and lowers combustion temperatures, significantly reducing NOx levels. But it increases PM. To deal with PM, a filter is installed in the exhaust flow to trap it. When the electronic engine controller senses the filter is restricting exhaust flow, diesel is injected into a chamber in the filter assembly and ignited to burn the trapped PM, which allows one filter to last for a very long time (about 4,500 hours, depending on the manufacturer).
The downsides are CEGR engines need a more extensive cooling package, which means engineers must allow for more space under the hood to install one. Particulate matter is really unburned hydrocarbons, so the engine isn’t capturing all the potential energy in a litre of fuel. But companies like Deere point to impressive fuel consumption tests at the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab to argue this technology can still be as fuel efficient as previous Tier 3 models and their new SCR rivals.
The second alternative, SCR, takes the opposite approach — the engine is tuned for a full fuel burn, which creates a lot of NOx but very little PM. A separate tank is added to the tractor to hold Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF), which is a blend of 32.5 per cent automotive-grade urea and de-ionized water.
The DEF is injected into a catalytic chamber built into the exhaust system. There, it reacts with NOx, breaking it down into harmless nitrogen and water.
The downside is you have to purchase an additional fluid — at an additional cost — and have it stored on the farm. But DEF doesn’t like cold weather, it freezes at -11 C. Tractors equipped with SCR circulate engine coolant around the DEF tank to keep it warm or thaw it in winter. Case IH spokesmen say their SCR engines will start and run for up to 30 minutes with frozen DEF, allowing enough time for it to thaw and flow normally.
SCR engines use relatively little DEF for every litre of diesel burned, and DEF can be stored for up to 36 months without degrading. For many, sorting out storage may be a case of simply putting DEF containers on a shelf in a heated farm shop.
Proponents of SCR say oil change intervals can be significantly extended with that technology because contaminants in recirculated exhaust won’t make their way into the engine oil, which is a cost saving. Case IH claims oil change intervals on some of their SCR-equipped, high-horsepower tractors can reach as high as 600 hours.
WHO IS DOING WHAT
Most manufacturers have announced their plans for Interim Tier 4. Here’s what they’ve said, so far.
John Deere has decided to go the CEGR route, as has Versatile, which uses Cummins engines. Case IH and New Holland have decided to use SCR in all engines above 100 horsepower. They will stick with CEGR in the smaller tractors. AGCO has also opted for SCR technology in high-horsepower engines.
For more on each manufacturer’s choice, take a look at their websites. There they explain their systems and rationale for adopting them.
And while each manufacturer has also been aggressively advertising the benefits of their chosen path to meet new emissions requirements, none have been too critical of the alternative. The reason, engineers quietly admit, is extremely stringent EPA regulations are pushing them into uncharted engineering territory. The technology required to meet Final Tier 4 standards is still evolving. Right now, the current thinking is it will require some combination of both CEGR and SCR. All we can do is watch and wait to see what happens.
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Engines using cooled exhaust gas recirculation (CEGR) route a portion of the exhaust back into the cylinders to reduce combustion temperatures. That virtually eliminates NOx. A two-part exhaust filter uses a diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC) and a diesel particulate filter (DPF) The DOC reacts with exhaust gasses reducing carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. The DPF traps particulates. These engines require much larger cooling systems that SCR versions.