March 2009   Vol. XXIV   No. 3   ISSN 1080-8019
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March 2009

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Fiat’s New Holland Subsidiary Launches First H2 PEM Fuel Cell Tractor

TURIN, ITALY – It’s probably mere coincidence, but exactly 50 years after the world’s first fuel cell tractor was photographed plowing some Midwestern field, Fiat subsidiary New Holland unveiled its own very contemporary, very stylish new version here last month.

The 75 kW NH2TM hydrogen-powered tractor, which has already won a gold medal at February’s SIMA agribusiness exhibit in Paris (H&FCL Jan. 09), is envisioned by New Holland as the center piece of future energy self -sufficient farm operations in which farmers would generate their own fuel.


Big Toy for Big Boys: New Holland’s stylish fuel cell tractor is mobbed by admiring photographers and reporters during its official rollout at the company’s new facilities in Turin.

“Farmers are in a unique position to benefit from hydrogen technology,” Pierre Lahutte, New Holland’s head of global product marketing for tractors and telehandlers, said. “Unlike many people, they have the space to install alternative electricity generation systems such as solar, wind, biomass or waste and then store that power as hydrogen. Apart from the environmental benefits, such a system would allow customers to become energy independent and improve their financial stability.”

First Fuel Cell Tractor by Major Manufacturer

New Holland’s fuel cell tractor is the first such tractor unveiled by a major manufacturer, but there have been previous efforts to use hydrogen as tractor fuel. In 2007, for example, a North Dakota State University student team showed off a diesel Caterpillar tractor converted to a diesel-hydrogen blend (H&FCL Aug. 07). The granddaddy of them all was a 1959 20 HP hydrogen-oxygen alkaline fuel cell tractor built by Allis-Chalmers, a spinoff from technology developed to power U. S. space vehicles and by some accounts the first vehicle ever to be powered by fuel cells.

The experimental NH2TM is based on the company’s commercial T6000 tractor series, with the standard diesel engine removed and replaced with a PEM fuel cell prototype designed by Fiat’s research center and built in cooperation with an outside supplier whom New Holland won’t identify. The company is not necessarily wedded, however, to Fiat’s design in any future commercial versions: A New Holland spokeswoman told H&FCL that it expects to also look at fuel cells made by other manufacturers for any future commercial versions.

New Holland said the hydrogen tank was manufactured by ATK, an aerospace and defense systems company in Minneapolis, MN (the company has a subsidiary, ATK Space Systems, Inc. in Commerce, CA that manufactures pressurized gas tanks for space applications). The tank is mounted on top, directly under the hood. Underneath is an air compressor, and the fuel cells are at the bottom, ahead of a resistor and four inverters, and two electric drive motors, one to drive the tractor and the other as a power take-off for any attached farm implements.

Designer Peter Jansen who is in charge of Fiat’s commercial vehicles and of New Holland agricultural and construction equipment, told H&FCL that aside from the technical innovation, “we wanted to reinterpret the key elements of the New Holland brand” as more environmentally benign. This included the use of lightweight elements, the rotating beacon on top of the cab roof is replaced by LEDs traveling around the roof ‘s edge, and LED lights replace conventional lights elsewhere for lower electricity consumption. The grille and hood were redesigned for an edgier look, giving it a vaguely sci-fi touch, with all elements held together visually by New Holland’s corporate color blue.

“World’s First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Tractor Sexier Than Most Chryslers,” headlined the American Internet automotive fan site Jalopnik in a brief, slightly cheeky report. “It’s impossible to ignore the hotness of the New Holland NH2 hydrogen fuel cell tractor. It makes us want to plow so hard.“

Ahead are more testing and fine-tuning and also more reliability, Jansen says. Power and torque are totally different than in a conventional diesel tractor: “There is much more torque right from the start, and the overall need for horsepower is much less than for a diesel engine,” he says. “We still have to check that out.”

Fiat's Marchionne Convinced - Eventually

Jansen’s top boss, Fiat Group Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne, apparently wasn’t too impressed a year ago with the idea of hydrogen as car fuel, but Jansen says a little later he and his team persuaded Marchionne that it makes good sense as fuel for tractors, especially with the option of producing it right on the farm, and also because of the strong support hydrogen energy technologies enjoy these days in Brussels at the European Union level.

A British reporter from a farm publication who went to Turin for the media launch wrote that the tractor is “eerily quiet,” as if you stood “next to a giant remote control tractor.” When it accelerates “all you hear is the slight whirr of the wheels turning like a big dynamo.” Acceleration is said to be quick and reportedly almost pushes you back into the seat.

This first-generation tractor stores only about 2.2 kg of hydrogen on board at 350 bar (5,000 psi), good for only about 1.5-2 hours of operation. A second-generation is already in the works; in the future, New Holland engineers expect to store enough hydrogen for up to eight hours of operation, and power may be upped to 130-140 HP (96-104 kW).

Interestingly, a set of slides in the press kit mention that in addition to compressed gaseous hydrogen stored in a big stationary tank for refueling, liquid anhydrous ammonia (NH3) is also seen as a possible fuel source, something that’s being looked at by the Great Plains Institute’s Upper Midwest Hydrogen Initiative (UMHI). Also, Iowa-based Hydrogen Engine Center has been developing ammonia-fueled i.c. engines (H&FCL Oct. 06)

Development costs for the fuel cell were reportedly in the range of about Euro 300,000 ($386,900), and the cost of the prototype tractor was about Euro 500,000 ($645,000).


The basic layout of New Holland’s new NH2TM fuel cell tractor.

Already in the works are plans for a pilot farm, or pilot farms, where the New Holland team hopes to try out the entire integrated system concept. “I personally hope that in the next year-and-a-half or two years we can at least start the pilot farm,” Jansen says. The next-generation improved tractor should be ready by then for testing.

Jansen concedes the tractor may look a little crazy “but actually it’s not. It’s funky, but it’s also functional.” Contact: New Holland media, Barbara Prossen, 39/01/10086125; barbara.prossen@cnh.com