The iconic American manufacturer has announced plans to release its first fully electric tractor.
It’s called SESAM (Sustainable Energy Supply for Agricultural Machinery), and it seems to be the first fully electric tractor. It features two 150 kW electric motors which can be used together, or as a single drive unit, with the second motor serving another function, like a hydraulic pump. That’s significantly more energy than in Tesla’s highest capacity battery pack (100 kWh). The machine is loud as hell — all tractors are, but this one is even more so. But that’s not really relevant, what’s relevant here is the money.
Tractors use up a lot of power, and taking that power from electricity instead of gasoline could make a world of a difference. Tractor makers are already struggling to grapple with emission laws, and engines are becoming more and more expensive due to these laws. At one point, electric tractors might simply become cheaper than their counterparts. John Deere also expects that the electric motors will require much less maintenance than a diesel engine, lasting for much longer and saving a lot of hard cash in the long run. Of course, this is just a proof of concept at this stage and there’s still a long way to go before it becomes viable. Even if it’s more efficient and cheaper than existing tractors, farmers who have invested heavily into conventional tractors will likely be reluctant to invest in a new technology. Besides, it’s not all good.
The problem with this tractor is battery life. It can only run for up to four hours or 55 km of range (34 miles), with a battery taking three hours to recharge. Farmers don’t really work for only four hours a day, so they will have to change batteries after four hours, which will cause a lot of downtime and waste time. There’s no option for a quick battery swap, though this will likely emerge in the near future.
All in all, there’s a lot to consider about this electric tractor. It won’t disrupt the market right now. It won’t become a staple anytime soon. But electrical cars (I know, tractors aren’t really cars) are spreading their wings more and more.
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.