CNH Industrial recently introduced what it says is the world’s first autonomous-ready, battery-electric light utility tractor at its Tech Day in Phoenix, Arizona. The New Holland T4 Electric Power is another step in the company’s vision for extensive electrification and autonomy across its lineup.
The company said production would begin in late 2023 on the four-wheel-drive tractor. Its e-motor provides a continuous 75 hp (55 kW) and peaks at 120 hp (89 kW), with max torque of 236 lb-ft (440 Nm) and a top speed of 25 mph (40 km/h). All those performance figures — which are comparable to the many internal-combustion (IC) tractors in the light utility category — start with a 95-kWh battery pack. Engineers said the tractor’s battery can power a full day of work for many mission profiles. That’s largely because power is used on-demand and never at idle as with an IC-powered rig. If a mid-use charge is required, the battery can be charged to 100% capacity in about an hour with standard fast-charging systems.
Outlets on the tractor can power daily tasks such as welding and drilling, and it can use traditional mechanical, hydraulic and power take-off (PTO) implements. “It is suited to mixed farm, livestock, municipal, orchard and specialty applications,” said Marc Kermisch, CNH Industrial’s chief digital and information officer.
The 90% solutions
The e-tractor is noticeably quiet ─ the company says it is up to 90% quieter than diesel-powered machines thanks to no diesel clatter and extensive engineering efforts to damp vibration. This means it can be used closer to livestock without disturbing the animals, as well as inside barns and other buildings and when municipal noise regulations might prevent it, such as at night.
The company’s representatives said the T4 Electric also cuts operating costs by up to 90%, the bulk of which is the result of eliminating the cost of diesel fuel, DEF and maintenance.
Though the company declined to name a price for the tractor, Scott Wine, the company’s CEO, said subsidies would put it within reach of many farmers. “The California market, with its strong subsidies, is attractive to bringing electrified and autonomous products quickly,” he said.
Autonomy for anybody
What makes the T4 Electric a world first, the company asserted, is its autonomous-ready features. The tractor can be operated using an app on Android or iOS devices, and up to six machines can be operated together, avoiding the others’ path automatically during whole-field operations. The tractor uses both sensors and cameras to monitor a 360-degree area to avoid obstacles, including animals or people. Redundant means of control-to-tractor and tractor-to-tractor communication are used to ensure operational continuity and safety.
The interface, which is essentially common across all CNH Industrial autonomous or driver-guidance machines, is intuitive and easy to use without requiring an experienced operator. “Our focus is to make the technology on our equipment so smart that the customer can focus on the farm and let [us] take care of the rest,” said chief digital product officer Parag Garg.
In addition to the T4 Electric, the company also showed other autonomous solutions:
- Driver-assist harvesting allows the driver of a combine to remotely coordinate with a tractor pulling a grain cart, which precisely follows along for a one-operator “unload on the go” solution.
- Driverless tillage on the Case IH tractor and tillage platform uses technology from Raven Industries, a CNH subsidiary, to allow a farmer to plan and operate precise runs from a tablet. The system provides real-time data on the results of the mission.
- Baler automation was demonstrated on New Holland square balers, which use lidar to scan the field in front of the tractor for crop density, volume and direction. The tractor and baler alter speed, steering and baler settings to ensure consistent and accurate crop feeding, resulting in optimized bale shape and increased productivity. It also will be offered on Case IH equipment.
Much of the T4 Electric’s autonomous technology originated at Monarch Tractor, which licenses it to CNH Industrial. Startup Monarch recently began delivering its $70,000, 40-hp (30-kW) continuous/70-hp (52-kW) peak MK-V battery-electric tractor to customers, which will typically work on smaller farms and vineyards. Mark Schwager, Monarch’s cofounder and president, said the model is sold out through the third quarter of 2023.
The company also debuted a New Holland T7 LNG Prototype that, due to its patented low-pressure, stainless steel cryogenic tank, allows four times more fuel to be stored than on the T6 Methane Power CNG tractor. The tank and its self-supporting vacuum space keeps liquefied methane at -259 deg F (-162 deg C). It does that even when the machine is not running. “The technology in this tank is more often found on spacecraft than on farm equipment,” said Stefano Fiorati, head of zero emission and advanced drivetrains. That technology came from Bennaman, a British company in which CNH Industrial now has a minority stake. Bennaman also produces technology allowing for an “on-farm liquid fugitive biomethane production process” that allows the capture and conversion of methane from slurry lagoons that hold livestock manure. As proof the concept can work, Bennaman is running a six-farm pilot project in Cornwall, England, with Cormac Biomethane Supply, to produce liquid methane.
If using biomethane as the source for the LNG, a CNH data sheet claims a 98% reduction in particulate matter versus regular diesel. It claims CO2 emissions are reduced by 11% when using fossil natural gas, 80% when using biomethane from waste and 180% if using fugitive methane — when methane (a powerful greenhouse gas that the World Resources Institute says is 25 times stronger than CO2 over 100 years, and 72 times stronger over 20 years) escapes from industrial processes like drilling.
The T7 LNG is powered by a six-cylinder NEF engine from FPT Industrial that generates 270 maximum hp (201 kW) and can propel the tractor at 31 mph (50 km/h). Its rear lift capacity is about 23,000 pounds (10,464 kg). CNH engineers said it can run for eight hours minimum even in heavy-work settings. For the operator, the T7 LNG has the company’s PLM precision technology inside a cab claimed to be the quietest in its class, at 66 dBA.
New electrification research center
CNH Industrial also announced the opening of a new tech center in Livonia, Michigan, devoted primarily to electrification R&D. The company said it wanted to get engineering talent under one roof to explore everything from componentry to full machines.
Being located in an epicenter of vehicle engineering and automation research was key. “This new hub means we can tap into a unique talent pool who will change the face of agriculture,” said Kevin Barr, CNH’s chief human resources officer.Continue reading »