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Delivering sustainable and reliable electrification of agricultural vehicles

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18.08.2021

Delivering sustainable and reliable electrification of agricultural vehicles

AEM’s ElecTra project will make the UK a leader in the electrification of agriculture by delivering an integrated, cost-effective hybrid powertrain optimised for the agricultural sector’s needs.

We’ve partnered with CNH Industrial, home to some of the world’s most innovative agricultural machinery brands and the leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices, World and Europe for machinery and electrical equipment for the last decade.

Why?

ElecTra is one of the most challenging projects in terms of electrification. 

Globally, governments and industry are looking to find ways for more sustainable food production and agriculture while dealing with the threats of market instability and climate change. Addressing this challenge goes to the heart of the issue of sustainability in food production.

There is also the issue of use cycles in the agricultural industry.

While a consumer vehicle sits idle for most of the day after being used for only an hour or so, heavy-duty agricultural vehicles need to be in service for up to 16 hours every day during sowing and harvesting periods. The lack of reliability of current technology has a significant and immediate cost impact on the income and security of our food sources. That’s why the solution has to be practical and credible and demand reliability for the industry.

In many ways, the electrification of agriculture is the ultimate test for the electrification industry. Agriculture is one of the largest industrial producers of greenhouse gases. Therefore, the journey to net zero in farming and agriculture will not be a single step but a series of steps that edge the industry closer to zero-carbon emissions. 

The ElecTra Project and our Partners

Project partners on the ElecTra project include AEM, CNH Industrial, SR Technologies, Semikron and Bath University.

Working with CNH Industrial, our remit looks at all aspects of the journey to zero-carbon food production, from the movement of hay bales to the delivery of food to retailers and distributors. We’re extending the envelope of how much electrification can be used on a farm through our innovation.

The company’s agricultural brands include Case IH, New Holland Agriculture and Steyr for tractors and farming machinery. Its leading-edge technology helps increase the economic viability of farming, maximise density and ensure crops are harvested in optimal commercial conditions. Their AI-powered, self-driving tractors can be programmed to pick crops in ideal conditions, whether to avoid or take advantage of weather or optimal commercial conditions.

CNH Industrial is also home to commercial vehicles brands, such as Iveco trucks and buses, so there is scope for application across these areas as well. The electric motor, transmission, power electronics, VCU hardware/software designs and simulations will all be applicable beyond agriculture, with uses in the off-highway, low-volume commercial vehicle and passenger car markets.

There is also a critical opportunity to de-risk the existing mechanical process and secure crop density and food supply. Currently, the systems used represent a risk, with hydraulic transmission reliant upon oil. The implication of an oil leak during harvesting or sowing can be the removal of entire fields from crop usage for up to two years. Shifting away from these systems and towards electrification helps secure the livelihoods of farmers and the availability of crops.

Addressing the unique challenges of electrifying agricultural vehicles, ElecTra delivers a comprehensive electrification strategy to achieve significant improvements in performance and sustainability. 

Our Solution

The solution focuses on removing rare earth materials from the process, improving the recyclability of materials used, and utilising existing manufacturing processes, whilst also increasing efficiency and performance and reducing costs. 

The development of magnet-free motor technology to drive these systems will replace the traditional mechanical and hydraulic systems with a more sustainable option that retains performance needs. In addition to removing magnets from the systems, the use of the latest wire technology will look to replace copper windings with aluminium to reduce cost and improve recyclability. 

Furthermore, to reduce the environmental impact throughout the manufacturing process, AEM will deliver an innovative design for manufacture, recyclability and re-use to maximise production readiness.

Integration, customization and safety are critical to the agricultural industry. The development of a cost-effective VCU and integration strategy, with existing hardware and software to meet safety standards, will be complemented by flexible “app-based” functionality to support integration with the wider powertrain. An interface enabling a range of apps based on the agricultural sector’s requirements will allow users to optimise efficiency and use precision agriculture analytics for maximum crop yield and quality. 

Keen to learn more? Stay tuned in to find how it’s going.

More about AEM’s off-highway applications: https://advancedelectricmachines.com/applications/off-highway/