New Holland will be showcasing the new T6. 180 Methane Power tractor at Low Carbon Agriculture show on the 8 and 9 March 2022.
The firm says it’s entering the final pre-production test and development stages of the Methane Power tractor, which is to begin series production at the brand’s Basildon tractor plant during 2022, with units currently undergoing practical testing by farmers across Europe – including two in the UK.
Test tractors spend time in hands of farmers
The T6.180 Methane Power was the inaugural winner of the ‘Sustainable’ class in the Tractor of the Year 2020 awards, and one prototype has been on test for the past six months with Essex-based Sell Farming, a farming and contracting operation based close to the New Holland factory at Basildon.
The location of the Sell Farming business and the fact it is widely diversified – including South Devon beef cattle, sheep, arable land, contract work and an electricity-generating 0.5MW anaerobic digestion plant – means it has been an ideal partner for providing factory feedback in the final stages of the tractor’s development.
“We’ve been New Holland users since 2016, when we started to switch our tractors from another make, and our main machines are three T7.210 AutoCommand models,” explains Ben.
“More recently, as we’ve become established New Holland users and are close to the factory, New Holland asked if we would consider helping provide feedback for tractor developments. We were happy to do so, but didn’t expect our first test machine to be methane-powered! However, we were given plenty of support by New Holland. As we have a gas-to-electricity rather than gas-to-grid AD plant, the gas we currently produce needs to be only 70-75% methane, and New Holland is supplying the cleaner 85% methane we need to fuel the trial tractor. In future, though, it may be feasible to produce the quality of gas the machine requires.
“Given this gas production experience, we were interested to see what the differences and similarities would be between a diesel and methane-powered tractor.”
The Sells’ first pre-production T6.180 Methane Power test tractor arrived on-farm in February, and this was operated until mid-June, when it was replaced with an updated model following some development upgrades. “There were some notable differences between the performance of the first pre-production tractor that arrived and a diesel equivalent,” notes Ben.
“We’ve been New Holland users since 2016, when we started to switch our tractors from another make, and our main models are three T7.210 AutoCommands,” explains Ben.
“More recently, as we’ve become established New Holland users and are close to the factory, New Holland asked if we would consider helping provide user feedback for tractor developments. We were happy to do so, but didn’t expect our first test machine to be methane-powered! We were interested to see what the differences and similarities would be between a diesel and methane-powered tractor.
“The T6.180 Methane Power test tractor, which arrived on-farm in February, looked largely the same as a conventional machine, apart from the additional front fuel tank, and that wasn’t a big issue as we are used to working with equipment mounted up front. We first put it to work on haulage and on PTO jobs such as straw chopping for cattle bedding, and its performance was impressive. We worked closely with the engineers on software development to help fine-tune the torque curve. Mechanically, though, it has proved problem-free.
“As we have a gas-to-electricity rather than gas-to-grid AD plant, and the gas we currently produce is only 70-75% methane, we are using the virtual pipeline system from an HGV lorry trailer to fuel the tractor. In future, though, it may be feasible to produce the quality of gas the machine requires. Filling is simple; it’s a very clean and odourless operation, taking around five minutes to complete.”
The Sells’ two successive methane tractors have performed a range of tasks, working with a Keenan feeder wagon, topping grassland, rolling spring cereals and operating a 16,000-litre Marshall slurry tanker to apply AD plant digestate back to the land.
“We’ve also done some maize drilling, and some subsoiling with a twin-leg Keeble subsoiler at 12-14 inches, plus a lot of trailer work and operating a 9m rake for silage, whilst after removal of the front supplementary methane tank we were also able to fit a loader, using it to help clamp silage, and to load the feedstock into the AD plant, completing the circle in terms of farming for fuel.”
“It’s notably quieter than a diesel equivalent. We also paired it with a 3m Lemken Zirkon power harrow, and at 2,000 engine rpm there’s considerably less in-cab noise.”
“As expected, fuel efficiency is best on low-torque, non-draft work, and on tasks requiring 1,500 engine rpm and under – loader work, fertiliser spreading, feeder wagon operation, with a full fuel load easily lasting eight hours on these tasks, comments Ben, and only an hour or so less on a job like raking.
“We’ve done a little draft work with it, but those sorts of jobs represent a relatively small portion of many mid-range tractors’ workloads, and the Methane Power tractor’s biggest benefits lie in top and road work, where its fuel efficiency is optimal and its lower noise levels are a big benefit. We’ve been able to give all our drivers a chance to operate it, and all have really enjoyed the experience.
“The idea of producing our own fuel is appealing, and not just from a financial point of view – if the world is to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, then farming will have to play its part. We’re already producing natural fuel for our digester – maize, wholecrop silages and grass silage – and adding waste manure from our own livestock and local dairy and chicken farms. While that’s currently used to power a gas engine and generate electricity, I’m really excited by the prospect of potentially using gas from it to power our own machines.”
To book your free ticket to the event and view the new T6. Methane Power tractor, visit https://lowcarbonagricultureshow.co.uk/register/.