Sitting in on a couple virtual machine launches recently I got a look at how both startups and established companies are looking at a net zero carbon emissions future. For machinery that means turning toward electricity.
Just what that means is still being worked out but there are niches where electric machines can do the same job as their former diesel or gas counterparts, and companies are stepping in.
For example, JCB has already introduced an electric mini excavator, and recently launched an electric telehandler they say is ready for a range of industries, including agriculture.
Using regenerative braking technology, the telehandler keeps the battery somewhat charged to provide a full-day's work. The 505.20E is designed to match its diesel counterpart but run with no emissions.
It's sure to be quieter than a diesel and in a confined space like a dairy barn, the electric machine is probably a bit more comfortable to operate. During its launch JCB management was clear that they weren't about to bring out an electric machine that didn't perform. Makes sense, it could be a brand killer too.
When asked about an electric Fastrac, the company's high-speed tractor, management says work continues. The challenge is that creating power in the 25 to 40 hp range is different than in the 400 to 500 hp range.
Bigger engines challenge batteries and capacity in new ways. Electric systems are a constant balance between capacity and battery storage. Sure a 500-hp electric tractor is possible but it might have to cart around 20,000 pounds of lithium batteries to get the torque you need (and I'm exaggerating some). But you can see the challenge. Remember for farm equipment torque means as much as raw horsepower.
Electric compact tractor
Monarch Tractor is an India-based startup that's making headway with the wineries in California with its new machine. The new tractor features a 40-hp engine that can push up to 70 hp when needed. But this is more than a tractor with a different engine.
Company founders shared with me that they had to rethink the idea of what an electric tractor could be and how it should perform. The machine features automated features so it can mow, spray and do other chores on its own. In addition, the machine is designed to capture data when at work
The Monarch Tractor also has a nice carry area in the hood, and it can be used to power a welder, much like an ATV. The aim was to do more than make a souped up golf car. This is a working tractor.
Courtesy of Monarch Tractor
VERSATILE POWER: The new Monarch Tractor may be compact in size but features up to 70 hp when needed. It's also got autonomous operation capability so it can work in more hazardous areas, like spraying vineyards, without a driver.
While many farmers may not be ready to jump right in on electric equipment, some are getting more useful for different industries. Dairies might like that electric JCB; while wineries working to share a carbon neutral story with environmentally conscious buyers may want that Monarch Tractor.
Add in the growing interest in carbon neutral sensitivity to any process from raising food to building cars, and you can see that interest in these tools may rise.
For now, these are niche machines. We'll keep watching where electric power, and even alternative fuels may be in the near future. Stay tuned.