After nearly a century of monopolizing transportation, the combustion engine has found a worthy adversary. Decades of greenhouse gas emissions have set the planet on a course of climate change, and several regions around the world are already dealing with the effects of global warming. Consequently, zero-emission electric vehicles (“EVs”) are poised to replace fossil fuel-powered cars as countries strive to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and cut down on their greenhouse gas emissions.
Although the wave of electrification began with passenger cars when Tesla debuted the Tesla Roadster more than a decade ago, it has now spread to trucks, buses, and even tractors. Of all the types of electrified vehicles, tractors are without a doubt the least common.
Stephen Heckeroth, a California designer who has spent decades trying to find alternative sources of energy, is looking to change that. He began looking into electric vehicles back in 1990, long before the first electric vehicles hit the market, and he realized one thing. Batteries are the heaviest component in any EV, and electric vehicle makers have invested plenty of time and money into developing lighter EV batteries, which will increase vehicle efficiency, reduce power consumption, and help increase vehicle range.
But when it comes to tractors, an extra heavy battery will be a plus rather than a liability as it will give the tractor more traction and stability. Heckeroth started Solectrac Inc. in 2012 to provide battery electric tractors for farmers, and five years later, two of his models, the eUtility Electric Tractor and the Compact Electric Tractor, became the first commercially available tractors in the country. The tractors are climate friendly and quiet, and compared to their fossil fuel counterparts, they are much more efficient, Heckeroth says. Comparatively, a conventional tractor requires 10 units of energy to produce one unit of food, a ratio he says is not sustainable.
He’s sold some of his tractors to American farmers, but he admits that he still has a long way to go, as does the electric tractor segment. Looking to tap into this overwhelmingly underserved segment, several other companies, including Motivo Engineering, AgCo and John Deere, have thrown their hats into the ring and are also working on developing electric tractors. However, this segment has a couple of barriers it needs to overcome before electric tractors have even a remote chance of surpassing their fossil fuel counterparts.
For starters, says Mike Pankonin, the senior director of technical and safety services at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, electric tractors do not have the energy density required to work for hours on end in the fields, possibly under a hot sun. After using diesel-powered tractors for most of their lives, farmers will not want to switch to an alternative that has to be recharged every few hours when the ones they are accustomed to can last a whole day in the fields on a single tank of gas. Furthermore, a tractor that’s pulling a heavy load, say a plow, will consume energy faster, meaning they will have to be recharged more often.
While these issues are not impossible to solve, the solutions will require new technology. Once they are alleviated, electric tractors could overtake gas-powered tractors.
With entities such as Ideanomics Inc. (NASDAQ: IDEX) backing Solectrac, the vision of making electric tractors mainstream may not be far off from becoming reality.
NOTE TO INVESTORS: The latest news and updates relating to Ideanomics Inc. (NASDAQ: IDEX) are available in the company’s newsroom at https://ibn.fm/IDEX
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