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I attended an IMechE lecture last night given by a staffer from New Holland - they make tractors and are part of the FIAT group.

New Holland have just exhibited a prototype tractor that uses hydrogen cells to produce electricity and where the motion of the tractor and the power take-off are achieved by means of electric motors. None of the technology is new. The tractor was built entirely from components already available on cars and trucks in the FIAT group.

FIAT have looked at hydrogen cars but the project is stymied by the enormous cost of infrastructure for the distribution of hydrogen and by the fact that producing hydrogen is itself an energy inefficient process with emission problems.

However, what make the tractor a "goer" is that farms are in a good position to produce their own hydrogen, using wind and solar power and a bio-digester producing methane from farming waste products. It requires some capital investment and there are maintenance costs, but the fuel produced is otherwise free and given enough land, there can be positive return to the national electricity grid.

Apparently, in Germany, there are already a number of farms (30 plus according to the lecturer) operating on this basis and the production of energy is proving so lucrative that several of them have effectively given up farming in favour of electricity generation.

One of the technical problems with the tractor is the size of the electric motors required, particularly for the power take-off. There is an upper limit on the voltage that can be used on tractors for safety reason. The figure of 42 volts was quoted as the figure above which electric shocks can be very dangerous. That's much lower than the 300 or so volts that my Prius uses, but I suppose the problem with tractors is that the connections are regularly being broken and re-made when connecting working devices to the take-off.

There was mention of universities doing work on stripping hydrogen from methane in a cleaner and more efficient way than simply burning the methane and if that comes, I imagine that lots of farmers will find the prospect attractive, but it doesn't really take us any closer to the hydrogen car.

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Interesting. Europe is so much further forward than the UK when it comes to energy generation - wood-burning to create electricity is being researched in USA and now Germany. In the UK we have one or 2 big power stations but no research on smaller installations...bring back the old steam engines!!!

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