Can an electric tractor work?

Can an electric tractor work?

Paul van Ham on designing and building electrically powered tractors. Photo: Natacha Hes, Tocal College, NSW DPI

Paul van Ham on designing and building electrically powered tractors. Photo: Natacha Hes, Tocal College, NSW DPI


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Addressing the Exploring Beyond Diesel webinar sponsored by the NSW DPI, Paul van Ham, agricultural engineer with H2Trac (formerly MTT Tractors), The Netherlands outlined progress made in developing an electric-powered tractor.

He has produced the third prototype model which is attracting a lot of attention.

Mr van Ham graduated from the Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands and has practised as an agricultural engineer since 1988.

His current project, developing an electric tractor came out of prior requests from farmers who had concerns about soil compaction.

"For my masters thesis I studied questions about ploughing or not ploughing and the effect on soil structure," he said.

"Forty years ago controlled traffic farming was impossible because there wasn't GPS and when farmers were asking for a tractor with adjustable wheel widths I saw my market niche which I wanted to fill."

He developed a tractor where the width of the wheels could be adjusted to a wide spacing for field work and then re-adjust to narrow spacing for travel.

"The big win in this system is that you do not compact all your soil but keep your tyres on the fixed tracks," Mr van Ham said.

"It is a real agricultural and biological win.

"When you don't compact the soil the harvest of the product can be up to 20 pc higher and you do not need as much fertiliser do get a good crop."

And when that engineering feat was shown to successful, he had a group of seven farmers who asked for further additions and adjustments.

That was the moment the idea for an electric tractor was conceived.

Seven years ago Mr van Ham began designing and building a tractor which would satisfy the needs of northern European farmers and after two prototypes he now has a machine which is close to being ready for production.

"This our third model and we have built-in motors in every wheel to drive and steer each wheel and it makes for a very powerful tractor," he said.

"Our tractor can do what a normal tractor can do but it has some extra possibilities like a big wheel angle for rapid cornering in small fields in a radius of less than 10m and with no engine nose there is very good sight of operating machinery."

Mr van Ham noted each wheel is fitted with a strong electric motor which can give a lot of torque when cooled in an efficient manner.

"The cabin allows good vision over the operating machinery and with hitches and PTO it is capable of performing like any other tractor," he said.

Mr van Ham is working on the limitations of the batteries with a 120hp diesel engine fitted to the current prototype to recharge the batteries during their working hours and is hopeful as more units are manufactured the price will be in the range of affordability for many farmers.

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