Comment – Neither VHS nor Betamax*

Your humble correspondent was fortunate, this week, to have been invited down to Basildon (‘BasVegas’ apparently!) for a couple of days to the New Holland plant.

The purpose of the trip was two fold, firstly to attend a thoroughly enjoyable Institution of Agricultural Engineers Awards ceremony, congratulations to the winners, more of which in the next few weeks. And secondly to spend some time with the methane tractor in the CNHi Development Centre.

In terms of ‘pub talk’ there’s lots of opinion out there about the direction of travel for off-road and far from home mobile work equipment. I reckon it’s a given that we won’t be ploughing with an electric tractor (well not for long anyway) in the foreseeable future, but what are the viable alternatives? E-fuels, the so called synthetic and carbon based liquid fuels, which can be produced from recycled oil and potentially plastics, then there’s hydrogen and methane.

New Hollands methane tractor and its liquid and compressed gas options are a very good example of rapid development. In 10 years or so, the company has got through various iterations and has a working commercially available mainline T6.180 unit, which you can buy today. Not only that, but they reckon to have built and sold around 400 in the last year.

Now its easy to carp about ‘only’ having the onboard fuel for 8 hours, but lets press the pause button for a moment and look at where we have come from. I don’t suppose the diesel engine was much cop in its first decade of use, and if we look at where it’s got to in the last 131 years since Rudolph Diesel fired up his first prototype. It’s come a long way.

About 18 months ago, I spent some time with JCB going through the motivations and progress with their hydrogen engine, again very impressive, and JCB are not alone in the hydrogen ‘space’, with Cummins and Kubota also making great strides forwards.

Both methane and hydrogen engines have the challenges of safe storage, energy density (JCB and New Holland both reckon on storage pressures of 4-500 Bar) and safe, reliable and sensible distribution networks.

Back to the beer talking, I don’t think we are at ‘VHS or Betamax’* moment in the industry, there are still lots of options, rapidly gathering steam and becoming gradually more mainstream.

Finally I would like to thank New Holland for their hospitality and for showing me lots of things, which I couldn’t photograph or talk about, but were never the less fascinating.

Have a great week.


PS For those readers below the age of say 40, this is what VHS and Betamax is all about .