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What fuel powers your farm for the future?

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RENEWABLE CHOICES: Farm Progress PANEL members share their responses to a question focusing on future fuels the industry may use.
Farm Progress PANEL asks what renewable fuel choices will farmers use in the future.

Agriculture is an energy intensive business, but in the future what energy source will farmers use? In the latest Farm Progress PANEL question, readers shared their insights on just what renewable fuel might work for them.

The question: “There’s a lot of talk about renewable fuels for agriculture, which make the most sense to you?” Of course today diesel rules, but what might be more popular on the farm?

We’ll work through the responses from the least to the most popular. And for these respondents, electricity as a fuel source came in at just 3%. One respondent chimed in with this comment: “I honestly feel that we are at least 20 to 30 years away from [electric vehicles] being practical, and possibly not even then.”

Challenges with the amount of power that can be generated in a tractor remain a roadblock. Today most electric only tractors are no more powerful than 80 hp. That’s not enough for today’s larger farms.

The next on the list is methane from livestock, which garnered a 6% response. This is an area that’s got some traction from companies including New Holland, which is pushing for a circular economy approach. In Europe, refined biomethane from a farm can power tractors, including a version of the company’s T-6 tractor. Perhaps grain farmers as part of the PANEL don’t see value in methane from livestock.

Related: Renewable fuels for agriculture raise questions

Next is hydrogen fuel cell technology, which garnered a 13% response. There’s a lot of investment going into this area, especially for on-road trucks from companies including Paccar. Cummins is making a commitment in this area, including development of hydrogen plants that could fuel those advanced engines. And Cummins is working with Buhler Industries, owners of the Versatile brand, on using hydrogen as a direct fuel source in tractor engines.

Just under one-fifth of respondents are interested in using ethanol to power their diesel engine. Startup ClearFlame has seen success using ethanol to power a Cummins 15-liter engine in an on-road semi-tractor. And John Deere is working with them on developing technology for the 9-liter engine. Perhaps the respondents here are corn growers who’ve heard about this new technology.

By far the big winner in this edition of the PANEL is bio- or renewable diesel with 60% selecting this as the fuel that makes the most sense. Those were lumped together, though they’re not directly interchangeable. Biodiesel has been around for some time; renewable diesel has popped up more recently and is a drop-in replacement for conventional diesel fuel. The carbon footprint for soy-derived diesel is much lower than the petroleum based conventional fuel.

Where renewable fuel technology goes will depend on the viability of new technology and the trust farmers have in the new technology.

Thanks to everyone who responded to these PANEL questions.

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Let your voice be heard

The Farm Progress PANEL is your chance to share your thoughts on key issues. To take part, start by signing up for our daily mobile text service Farm Progress NOW. To do that text FARM to 20505 and be sure to respond to the text that follows we have a double opt-in system to make sure you're signed up.

Later in one of our daily update texts we'll provide information about how to sign up for the PANEL. And thanks to the respondents for helping us out. And if you’re already part of the PANEL, be sure to respond when that text comes. It just takes a moment to respond with your answer number.

Note: The Farm Progress PANEL is an opt-in SMS-based group. If you are a part of the panel, you may text STOP to unsubscribe.

TAGS: Farm Life
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