08 Jan 2024, 14:17
Benjamin Wehrmann

Diesel engines difficult to replace in farming in the short run – engineering researcher


Alternatives to fossil fuel-based agricultural machinery are scarce and often fall behind their emissions-intensive counterparts in practical tests, says electric engineer Michael Sterner in an interview with Germany’s public radio Dlf. Tractors and harvesters in Germany and elsewhere often run on diesel fuel, and alternative propulsion systems based on hydrogen, biofuel, methane or batteries are so far only practical for smaller vehicles, Sterner argued. “Forklifts or small tractors can be easily operated electrically in agriculture,” the researcher from the Technical University of Regensburg said. However, heavier harvesters would bring electric engines to their current technical limits. Batteries capable of delivering the load for the energy-intensive duties of large vehicles in farming would have to be several times heavier than the vehicle itself. “Batteries are simply not practical today in these performance classes.” Other methods of electric driving, for example with a solar array-connected cable drum, have also so far failed to convince users in trial runs. Hydrogen-based engines offered an alternative, even though these likewise face technical problems regarding tank size and other parameters. E-fuels, biofuels and methane are currently the most promising solutions for larger machinery, but are not yet readily available, Sterner said. However, renewable and decarbonised energy sources generally offered a lot of opportunities for saving and even earning money thanks to installations on their property and synergies between farming and bioenergy.

Farming businesses across Germany have launched large-scale protests against subsidy cuts on diesel fuel sparked by a last-minute budget reshuffling by the government. They argue that subsidy cuts and rising carbon prices hit them harder than other business groups and demand a full reversal of the measures, after the government last week said it would only partially abolish or delay them.

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