Being green: Deere developing first battery-powered tractor

John Deere's prototype SESAM tractor is the Moline-based ag equipment maker's first electric- powered tractor.

John Deere is working on the industry's first electric-powered tractor, a prototype of which is being displayed at the SIMA 2017 Paris International Agribusiness Show, one of the world's biggest trade fairs for agricultural machinery.

The Sustainable Energy Supply for Agricultural Machinery tractor is "an elementary component of John Deere’s vision of future energy autonomous farms," the Moline-based ag equipment giant says, in a news release from its European headquarters and tractor factory in Mannheim, Germany.

"Besides an overall outstanding efficiency, benefits from the SESAM tractor are potential use of on-farm produced renewable energy and enabling new business models for farms through grid-plug-in and bi-directional charging technology," the release says. "This enables farms for future services for electric power grids in rural areas."

The prototype, designed on the chassis of 6R tractors from Mannheim, develops a power of 130 kilowatts with two independent electric motors, according to the company.

"In standard operation, a motor is used for driving, the other for the PTO (power take-off) shaft and the hydraulic system," according to Deere's French website, deere.fr. "If necessary, the two electric motors may be combined to provide the power either to traction, or to the PTO shaft or the hydraulic system. In addition, the combination of an electrical drive with gearing provides similar driving experience to that of a continuously variable transmission."

When the tractor is stationary, there is no energy loss, the company says. "It produces no emissions and virtually no noise, a significant advantage during night work or close to residential areas," the website says.

A full-battery charge can work for about four hours in normal use, or drive about about 34 miles on the road, and the charging time is about three hours, Deere says. The lifetime of the battery is designed for 3,100 charging cycles, according to the company.

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"The SESAM tractor for John Deere is another step toward a neutral carbon agriculture," the Deere website says. It is in the same vein as the Multifuel tractor, which won a SIMA Innovation Award in 2013, and uses pure vegetable oil as fuel instead of diesel; and the BatteryBoost, a hybrid traction tractor based on a battery exchange design, which won a SIMA Innovation Award in 2015. 

An article at newatlas.com notes that the electric tractor will be powered by a lithium battery pack under the hood. "In some ways, tractors seem like an ideal candidate for electrification," the article says.

"Electric motors are great for generating the kinds of huge torque figures tractors require, and tractors are generally fairly short-range vehicles that live in the same shed every night, making for convenient recharging," it says. "They're also very low-maintenance in comparison with diesel gear."

Hybridcars.com wrote that while Deere has shown a variety of alternative-fuel sources in the past, the SESAM concept is the first fully powered solely by a lithium-ion battery pack. It will provide power to two motors with a total output of 402 horsepower.

The SESAM tractor is one of three Deere displays that is honored by SIMA for innovation. The others are an intelligent tractor and tool greasing system and an intelligent nozzle body. SIMA 2017 was held Feb. 26 to March 2, Deere's release says.

Ken Golden, Deere's director of global media relations, says that the electric tractor is currently in research and development at Mannheim, and not ready for manufacturing. It would have no impact on employment in the U.S. or anywhere else while it is in the prototype stage, he adds.

Theverge.com included a link to a Deere-produced video about the tractor, in French: theverge.com/2016/12/7/13874576/john-deere-sesam-electric-tractor-150kw-battery.

Contributor Jonathan Turner is a writer on staff with the Dispatch•Argus•QCOnline.

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