Just fill up manure
© Vytaute Stankeviciene
November 2021

Just fill up manure

By Volker Paulun
The Auga Group from Lithuania actually produces organic food on a grand scale, but why not also make the machines that are needed for this more environmentally friendly? The first result of this idea is now ready for use: the world’s first hybrid tractor with biomethane and an electric drivetrain for professional use in agriculture: the Auga M1.

According to scientists, agriculture is responsible for almost a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases. A significant part of the emissions is due to the use of fossil fuels in agricultural machinery. “When we first calculated our emissions three years ago, we found that up to 30 percent of them were due to the use of fossil fuel in agriculture. There were simply no solutions to change this. That’s why we started developing these kinds of technologies ourselves,” explains Auga Managing Director Kęstutis Juščius.

With the Auga M1, the food manufacturer is now pushing open the door to mechanical engineering. The goal of diversification is ambitious: Auga wants to become nothing less than one of the world’s leading suppliers of sustainable and ecological food technologies. 

There were good reasons for choosing biomethane as an alternative fuel for tractors. Methane, which is mainly derived from plant or animal waste (slurry, manure) and converted into biomethane, offsets more emissions per unit of energy in its production and use cycle than it emits itself (e.g. 16 g CO2 eq/MJ for biomethane from slurry).

12 hours of runtime, convenient refueling

Until now, tractors using this sustainable fuel were not suitable for professional agricultural work. According to CEO Juščius, Auga engineers have succeeded in removing two main obstacles that previously prevented other manufacturers from offering such equipment for professional use.

Just fill up manure
Half a day of work in the field: no problem thanks to the generously sized methane supply and battery storage© Vytaute Stankeviciene

“Our engineering team has found solutions to solve the problem of refueling and ensure uninterrupted operation of the tractor throughout the working day. Currently, biomethane-powered tractors can only operate for two to four hours, because the gas storage cylinders do not fit into the structure of the tractor. However, farmers need machines that can work for twelve hours or more,” says Juščius.

The hybrid drive system, with a small methane-fueled internal combustion engine as the generator and compact electric motors as the drivetrain, creates the necessary space for larger biomethane gas cylinders on the Auga M1. Under full load, power flows directly to the electric motors. During normal operation, which does not require high power, the excess energy is stored in batteries and can be used as needed. In this way, the Auga M1 can manage twelve working hours at a stretch.

The second obstacle to the spread of biomethane-powered tractors is the underdeveloped infrastructure for biomethane refueling stations. Auga aims to solve this problem by offering quick and convenient gas cartridge replacement. Experts also believe that more and more farms will be able to produce their own alternative fuel.

The alternative
Just fill up manure
Especially for farms that produce their own biomethane, tractors powered by it, such as the New Holland T6, are an interesting alternative to conventional models© New Holland

Agricultural machinery supplier New Holland has launched a methane variant of the T6.180 tractor model. This achieves reductions of 99 percent fewer particulates, 70 percent fewer nitrogen oxides (NOX), as well as 90 percent fewer carbon monoxide and non-methane hydrocarbons compared to the latest emission level V for diesel engines, with a simple three-way catalytic converter and no exhaust gas recirculation, no particulate filter and no exhaust gas aftertreatment. In addition, the methane model is 5 dB quieter than its diesel brother at the same power output (158 hp). According to New Holland, farms that already have a gas treatment system and have so far offered their methane gas exclusively on the fuel market instead of using it themselves are particularly interested in the new vehicle. But vegetable growers, who see an advantage in marketing their products if they are produced in a CO2-neutral or CO2-reduced manner, are also increasingly asking for the methane tractor.

Schaeffler helps commercial vehicles go electric
Just fill up manure
The electric motor delivers a maximum continuous output of 180 kW and generates up to 950 Nm of torque© Schaeffler

Automotive and industrial supplier Schaeffler is expanding its range of powertrain electrification solutions for commercial vehicles, making another key contribution to meeting climate and sustainability targets amid a global tightening of pollution and CO2 restrictions. “The commercial vehicle sector is facing major challenges,” says Matthias Zink, CEO Automotive Technologies at Schaeffler AG. “We are bringing our considerable systems expertise in the field of commercial vehicles to shape how the world moves. The fact that we won two major contracts recently shows that we are on track to being a preferred technology partner for our customers in this sector.” Learn more on schaeffler.com