Deere has been recently showing off it’s concept electric tractor, with the rather awkward and unfortunate name “Sustainable Energy Supply for Agricultural Machinery”, or SESAM. Deere is supposedly going to show it off at the Paris Agribusiness Show in Feb.
While it sounds interesting, whether or not it will actually work in practice is something else again. I haven’t been able to find out much about it. Deer claims that it will work for about 4 hours in “normal use”, whatever that is, or can drive about 55 kilometers on the road.
Both of those claims are essentially meaningless, though. What kind of work? What kind of load was it under, if any? Under what kind of conditions? What kind of weather, temperature, etc? Can I use it to plow snow when it’s -10 or do the batteries turn into mush at low temperatures? Or high temps? How well does it work at 100 or 110 degrees?
The statistics given out that I’ve found don’t sound utterly horrible. It recharges in about 3 hours, which is pretty good. I imagine that would require a specialized charging station, however. Almost no normal domestic power source could charge a big battery pack, that fast.
The battery’s life is estimated at 2,100 charge cycles, which also sounds pretty good until you remember that the average tractor isn’t kept for just a couple of years, but often for decades. That battery isn’t going to last for the life of the tractor, not even close. It would probably have to be replaced many times. So what is that going to cost?
The 3 hour run time may seem pretty good as well, but something like that would be almost useless for the average farm where a tractor may be expected to operate 10, 16 hours straight during busy times.
And once you’re out in the field and the battery gets low, how do you recharge it? You’d have to take it back to the shop, which could be miles away, wait 3 hours to charge it…
Basically it means you would have to have multiple tractors to fill the same role that was performed by a single machine if you’re going to keep going during busy times.
It might be useful for utility tractors used around the farm itself and that never wander far from a charger, but for harvesting, plowing, tilling… At this stage of the game they’d be useless.
I’m not saying electric tractors are useless. But they are going to need to be better than this. The technology will almost certainly improve with time, but it’s going to take better battery technologies and charging systems that we have today.