Austrian machinery manufacturer Steyr drew a lot of attention at Agritechnica 2019 when it unveiled its diesel-electric hybrid Konzept tractor. The Konzept tractor is a study on what the future of tractor production could be and addresses top-of-mind issues such as environmental sustainability, efficiency, connectivity and comfort.
At the heart of Steyr Konzept is a modular hybrid electric drive composed of a 4.5-litre FPT diesel engine, a generator and five electric motors. The modular engine powers an electric generator, which replaces the need for a traditional gearbox, explained Christian Huber, vice president of Global Tractor Management, Steyr. Power is instead transferred to four individually controlled electric wheel motors, and a fifth motor, which powers the PTO and hydraulic pump.
A 60kWh battery replaces the complete driveline in the Konzept tractor. In pure electric mode, the tractor enables zero-emission operation.
Under normal operating conditions, and using electric power only, the battery will last approximately one hour, said Huber. When travelling downhill, energy can also be recovered, transferred and stored — a feature that further enhances efficiency.
At the rear of the tractor, 700 V and 48 V connections supply energy for electrical implements. During operation, handling is improved by the e-torque boost, which takes the tractor from 204 hp to a maximum of 340 hp for a short period of time. The result is optimal energy flow with fewer power losses, a feature that is especially handy when completing tough tasks in variable conditions.
In the cab
Inside the tractor, the cab environment has also been improved, turning the space into a virtual home office on wheels. The tractor comes equipped with a modern computer with full connectivity and access to wireless LAN. It also has head-up display (HUD), which allows the driver to keep an eye on navigation and driving and PTO speed, without taking their eyes off the road. The screen uses haptic display technology — reactive glass similar to what was just introduced in the new Audi A8 — which doesn’t block visibility for the operator.
“You can even go further,” said Huber. “You can connect with an iPad or phone to show everything you see on your iPhone on the windscreen or on the side of the glass area in the tractor.”
No future-ready tractor concept would be complete if it didn’t support digital farming. The Konzept tractor is fully connected, so it supports operators at all times. The concept also includes a Steyr drone that flies in front of the tractor as it goes about its tasks. The drone gathers real-time field data via crop sensors, such as soil components, weed cover and crop disease, which is then transmitted back to the cab. The gathered data is transferred directly to the head-up display, and can be used for variable rate application or other uses.
Comfort is another factor that fits into Steyr’s idea of the future of farming.
The tractor offers independent wheel suspension and full-wheel steering for best maneuverability. Doors open and close electrically, the steps are electrical, and the seat turns in the direction faced by the operator.
The biggest advantage of the Steyr Konzept tractor is its universality. It’s best suited for producers who will use it for a wide variety of tasks on-farm. The zero-emission mode is ideal in situations where vehicles need to operate in barns where livestock are present. Drivers travelling past neighboring homes late at night can switch to electric mode to reduce noise.
Looking forward, said Huber, it’s important to develop concepts that reduce fuel consumption, and therefore, emissions. By replacing the mechanical, hydraulic driveline, the electric drive reduces overall fuel consumption, and opens the door to alternative technologies to drive the generator. One possible alternative is the hydrogen fuel cell, a good fit for this concept, said Huber.
Getting to the field
Steyr needs to tackle a couple of big hurdles before its Konzept tractor reaches the commercial stage, though. For one, the 700 V-outlet presents obvious safety concerns.
The second challenge is the battery. The 60kWh battery is large and weighs nearly 1,000 kilos. For its size and weight, its lifespan just isn’t enough.
The last challenge is finding a way to cover the whole speed and torque range from zero to 60 kph without a driveline. Huber said Steyr is currently working on ways to overcome all three challenges.
Despite the challenges, Huber said interest in the Konzept has been huge, so the manufacturer does plan to further develop the idea.