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Manure-powered CNH Industrial tractor is helping bring food from farm to fork

The world’s first 100% methane-powered tractor has been developed through a project that received £9.1 million in government funding from the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC).

Running on biomethane fuel made from recovered cow dung, the tractor could help save farmers money, reduce GHG emissions and support sustainable UK farming of local produce. It can also advance development of a more sustainable circular economy in agriculture.

So far, the Low Carbon T6 Methane Power Tractor has been operating “in-field” trials and used to harvest vegetables on a Cornish farm. The rollout of the system is now well underway – with the results already ‘bearing fruit’ and the tractor has recently hit the market.

This case study video shows the progress that has been made under the Low Carbon Tractor (LoCT) project funded by the APC.

Project details

The APC LoCT project was conceived in 2016 as part of the APC6 collaborative research and development funding round, and the whole project had a total value of £18.2 million.

The project set out to design a commercially viable tractor capable of operating on biomethane while complying with the latest European and US emissions standards.

By 2019 the project team had already produced and unveiled a fully-working prototype, led by the global capital goods company CNH Industrial together with its agricultural brand New Holland and its powertrain brand FPT Industrial – a specialist in natural gas traction.

They formed a consortium with Eminox, an exhaust and after-treatment technology specialist, and Zircotec, a thermal management and ceramic coating specialist.

As a result of these partnerships, the methane-powered tractor was developed at the CNH Industrial facility in Basildon, Essex.

Andrew Dunne, New Holland Brand Marketing Manager, said:

“It’s a big advantage because our production facilities are set up now to deal with diesel engines, but this engine can go around the same manufacturing process as the current production tractor. There’s no real implications to producing the methane, or diesel tractor. They’re both on the same line, following the same process.”

Cabbage patch kit

Some dinner tables in the UK could have featured vegetables harvested by this cow dung-powered tractor, as it has already been field tested in Cornwall for harvesting cauliflower and cabbage.

Grower Riviera Produce was chosen to test whether it could potentially replace diesel-powered tractors in real operating conditions and thereby help reduce emissions.

Daniel Collins of Riviera Produce said:

“We have been very impressed with the tractor’s performance, and apart from a different engine and fuel tank, it is fundamentally the same as our current tractors inside and out.”

The New Holland Low Carbon T6 Methane Power Tractor uses farm animal waste, converted into fuel, helping to reduce emissions, and create more sustainable ways of farming. 

In order to close the loop, Cornish start-up Bennamann created a process to collect the methane gas produced by slurry from a dairy farm and then ‘clean up’ the methane to be used as a fuel.

By using methane instead of diesel, the tractor can help reduce emissions by eliminating the need for fossil fuels.

This is key because while the waste would have entered the atmosphere regardless, this process captures it, puts it to use as fuel, and reduces farming CO2 emissions by as much as 60%.

Dairy farmer Kevin Hoare said: 

“It performs as well as any diesel tractor. I would say that if you didn’t know it was methane, there’s no way of telling really. We are now entering the second stage [of testing the slurry-tractor system]. We’ve got a generator here now, a hybrid that will run on the methane. So, we are testing producing our own electricity, and basically being self-sufficient for all our electricity needs as well.”

Government support and future growth

As set out in the Agricultural Transition Plan, UK government is already introducing a range of reforms to incentivise sustainable farming practices, rewarding farmers for producing environmental benefits such as better air and water quality, protecting wildlife, soil health and animal welfare.

Former Energy and Climate Change Minister, Greg Hands, said:

 “The Government is happy to help fund this new, methane-powered tractor. It will reduce fossil fuel usage and cut emissions. For farmers, it will be effectively free to use. It’s a double helping of good news – allowing them to grow food for us all, while reducing their business costs.”

The biomethane fuel further helps to create a circular economy for the agricultural sector, with plans to use manure produced by cows that graze on the waste leaves after the vegetables have been harvested. The tractor can also help save farmers money with 30% lower running costs than a typical diesel tractor.

Investing in innovative UK-made manufacturing such as the Low Carbon Tractor will ultimately work to reduce emissions and help secure highly-skilled manufacturing jobs as we accelerate the shift towards low-carbon vehicles.

The APC looks forward to seeing how the system and tractor is rolled out across the country.

Road to Net Zero Podcast

Our Road to Net Zero podcast is all about how the UK automotive industry is transitioning to net zero. In a series of interviews, we highlight key issues and developments, interesting projects and technologies emerging from one of the UK’s most innovative sectors on the road to net zero.

Hear about the world’s first 100% methane-powered tractor that has been developed through a project that received £9.1 million in government funding from us.

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