Futuristic Farming, But What's the Price Tag?Once upon a time, in the early days of the industrial revolution, around 50% of people worked in agriculture. These days, at least in most of the so-called 'Western' countries, that number is closer to 1%. Because of the need to produce food for an ever-growing population with fewer people than ever, farming has become heavily mechanized, and of course those tractors, combine harvesters and trucks run on fossil fuels. The NH2 tractor pictured above could provide an alternative.
Headed for the La Bellotta Energy Independent Farm
The hydrogen-powered NH2 is based on the New Holland T6.140 production model. It is able to operate all the implements required for different seasonal operations: soil preparation, seeding, baling, transport, and front loader applications. It's fuel cell can generate 100kW of power (double what the prototype could produce).
"Each of the [two] new electric motors has a power output of 100kW, with continuous torque of 950Nm and maximum torque of 1,200Nm. Top crankshaft speed is 3000 rpm, and efficiency at maximum power output is a staggering 96%. Naturally enough, to keep the increased number of fuel cells in operation and ensure the tractor can keep working for longer (up to three hours, depending on the load); a bigger hydrogen tank has been installed. The tank of the new NH2™ can hold a generous 8.2 kg of hydrogen at a pressure of 350 bar, opposed to 2.4 kg for the previous model. [...] With a top speed of 50kph, pulling power comparable to that of a standard 120 hp diesel tractor, and a hydraulic system that delivers a maximum of 113 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, comprehensively equipped and ready to work." (source)
But as usual with hydrogen, you have to ask what the source is going to be. The first NH2 unit will be deployed on a very special farm in Italy that produces most of its own energy, and that will be equipped to produce the hydrogen required by the tractor on-site. That won't be the case everywhere, at least not without investing some serious money on top of the cost of a hydrogen-tractor; a cost that is unknown, since New Holland doesn't provide one publicly. But we can safely assume that it is very high. It could be brought down with mass production, but it would likely remain more expensive than some of the alternatives.
My Take on the Future of Farm EquipmentPersonally, I think it's much more likely that a next-generation biodiesel (made from algae, once we've worked out the kinks in the process) will become the dominant energy source for farm machinery in the future because costs will be lower; it's easier to convert current tractors to run well on biodiesel, if they don't already do, and biodiesel can more easily be transported than hydrogen (it requires high-pressure containers, and tends to leak out of everything because H atoms are so small). Even battery-powered tractors might be more practical once battery technology has improved enough, because we already have an electricity grid but no hydrogen infrastructure.
But still, I'm glad to see that some people are working on alternatives. We never know when technical breakthroughs are going to happen and make a technology cheaper and more convenient...