“Providing the nature and complexity of agricultural machinery, there is currently no single technology or energy carrier capable of entirely replacing conventional technology, ie, diesel engines.”
These are the opinions of a position paper compiled by CEMA, the association representing the European agricultural machinery industry. The paper looks at current possible alternative fuels and power sources to help reduce the CO2 emissions of agricultural equipment.
CEMA states that 10% of EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are caused by the agricultural sector, 1% of which can be attributed to agricultural machinery. Therefore, the sector’s dependency on fossil fuels needs to be overcome.
The paper outlines that farmers will have a key role to play, as both energy consumers and energy producers, with solar panels, wind turbines and AD plants.
It acknowledges that there are many ways by which the sector is working to reduce its CO2 footprint. Efficiency gains, cleaner burning engines and the utilisation of alternative drives and fuels are just some of the areas currently being worked on.
However, given the high average age of the EU agricultural machinery fleet powered by combustion engines, solutions for the current fleet need to be carefully considered.
“To deliver a significant CO2 reduction, renewable and low-carbon fuels, notably liquid and gaseous biomass fuels, green hydrogen and e-fuels will be an important source of energy, with which the combustion engine will remain viable and a suitable solution,” CEMA said.
CEMA states that the challenges with electrification of ag machines over the coming decade will define their long-term potential.
Improving weight, energy density and recharge times are key areas of focus.
The association believes that full electrification is more feasible for small-sized, low-powered agricultural machines, while it is not an alternative to combustion engines for mid- and large-sized machines subject to high-power applications.
According to the paper, sustainable biomass fuels can reduce GHG emissions by at least 60%, and bio-methane fuels from waste and manure by potentially more than 200%, when compared to fossil diesel.
The major benefit of bio-fuels is that machine operational characteristics remain similar to diesel fuels.
Some fuels, such as HVO, are considered drop-in replacement fuels, meaning they can be utilised in existing diesel engines without change. Others, such as those of the gaseous type, require engine modifications to suit the particular combustion process.
However, performance and machine characteristics tend to stay similar to that of fossil diesel.
CEMA recognises green hydrogen as having considerable potential, given its performance when used within combustion engines. However, uncertainties surrounding its production in a green manner, combined with logistics and safe storage, are holding it back.
CEMA believes that each fuel should be taxed in accordance with its climate contribution in order to meet sectoral targets.
Instead of charging a premium for sustainable fuels, CEMA believes they should be economically incentivised and promoted to farmers and contractors as a more attractive alternative to fossil diesel, while waiting for other technologies such as green hydrogen to reach maturity.