There is no doubt that diesel is the main force in the agricultural sector. The Diesel Technology Forum shows that more than 60% of agricultural equipment in the United States is powered by diesel, and 96% of the large trucks that transport agricultural products to logistics centers and final destinations are powered by diesel engines.
Whether it is tractors, combine harvesters, sprayers or other self-propelled equipment, there are currently almost no substitutes for diesel power. Therefore, in the context of business necessity, global climate emergencies, new emission regulations and changing end-user needs, Ann Schmelzer, general manager of the Cummins Department of Agriculture, looked forward to the future of diesel.
Drive the future
Although agriculture has made progress in the electrification of loaders and feed mixers, there has not yet been a viable alternative to diesel power that can match the high duty cycle of most agricultural equipment. Not to mention, diesel provides an optimal combination of operational flexibility, fuel availability, reliability, durability and economic operation. Most tractors, harvesters, and sprayers today still require the high power and durability of diesel engines—especially during critical periods such as the harvest season.
Ann Schmelzer, General Manager of Cummins Agriculture
Contrary to public opinion, the technology involved in diesel combustion has never been cleaner. With its ultra-clean engine-Performance Series, Cummins has pushed diesel engines to the next step in its evolutionary stage. Cummins’ solution has achieved a near-zero emission level, which has been reduced by 96% since the start of the emission legislation in 1999.
Innovative single-module aftertreatment technology means that the engine does not require exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and ensures that NOx and PM emissions are kept at an ultra-low level. This system is 40% smaller and 20% lighter than Cummins’ previous system, complementing the smaller and lighter engine design of the Performance Series. The improved aftertreatment will not affect engine performance, because the performance series provides an average 10% increase in power and 20% torque in the 75-321 kW range compared to the previous model.
In addition to the fuel efficiency improvements brought by the Cummins Performance Series, the use of B20 biodiesel or hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) renewable fuels can also achieve a lower carbon footprint. Compared with traditional fossil fuels, HVO has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40-90%, depending on the raw material of the fuel.
However, integrating diesel engines into the development of a sustainable future is only part of it. The key for the entire industry to embrace change will be the willingness of original equipment manufacturers to cooperate with power manufacturers to find suitable solutions and meet market needs. The diversity of agricultural equipment design and working conditions means that power solutions can never be a one-size-fits-all approach. This is obvious. The pioneer manufacturers diversify their product portfolios to include all-electric, hybrid, methane and hydrogen technologies-all of which are supported by a long-term and proven diesel platform.
The dream of electrification
Although electrification is one of the most important trends in road transportation today, its impact on agriculture may not be surprisingly concentrated on light-duty yard equipment. Currently, battery technology cannot withstand heavy-duty cycles and the long working days of farm life.
But progress is being made-many equipment manufacturers used last year’s Agritechnica show as a springboard to showcase the concept of electric motors, and Cummins highlighted its internal battery power supply capabilities with 39kW and 35kW battery packs. The company’s investment in battery technology ensures that it is fully prepared for increased market adoption.
So, can we see more electric devices in the future? no doubt. It may not be a heavy tractor or combine harvester yet, but smaller, lighter equipment in the yard and near charging points provides an important opportunity. Cummins recently demonstrated its all-electric mini excavator test machine, powered by eight BM4.4E flexible battery modules. With a power of 35 kWh, the machine is a test platform for Cummins lithium-ion battery technology and is suitable for various installations.
The rise of hybrid power?
For large machines, hybrid power may be a viable way to bridge the gap between full electric and diesel. Combining the power density of a clean diesel engine with the option to run on batteries when appropriate, the full hybrid system provides farmers with greater flexibility and can be used in heavy, time-critical operations or areas with little or no charging infrastructure .
Mild hybrid power is an often-talked-about technology that combines smaller batteries and electric generators with clean diesel engines. Motor generators can use stored energy to provide torque and/or power tools to generate electricity and improve engine performance. Although not used for all-electric propulsion, mild hybrid technology can improve performance while improving fuel efficiency and reducing overall emissions.
Although hybrid systems have been proven in road applications; cars, buses, and trucks, so far, they have little impact on the off-road industry. The challenge for agriculture is that the payback period for the additional costs of the technology is longer. Although it is largely supported by government subsidies for road applications, there is currently no similar strategy for agricultural machinery.
Natural gas-is it just a greenhouse gas?
Another power option that everyone is talking about is natural gas. Provide opportunities for the development of a circular economy, which provides performance close to diesel, low emissions and increases the potential for farm decarbonization. The biogas from the manure reactor contains more than 50% methane and can be used to generate electricity and fuel for natural gas power plants after being refined.
Recently, the Belarusian company Gomselmash launched their first natural gas-powered harvester, powered by a 350-horsepower Cummins 12-liter natural gas engine. These engines can run on compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG) or biomethane, and reduce CO 2 emissions by approximately 15% compared to diesel equivalents. The harvester claims to have enough storage capacity to work for 10 hours under full engine load or 12 hours under light operation, highlighting the feasibility of natural gas as a power option.
Find the best solution
The reality of near-term power solutions may be a combination of electrification, hybrid power and ultra-low emission gas and diesel technology. Cummins is committed to developing solutions to meet global agricultural needs, and continues to improve energy efficiency, reduce emissions and reduce operating costs for customers. This is achieved through a series of technologies, not only electricity and renewable fuels, but also through ultra-clean diesel and low-carbon biofuels to demonstrate the ability of diesel to expand in a sustainable future.
For global agriculture, long work cycles, long working days, and often remote operating locations mean that there is no real “one size fits all” power solution. By 2050, the population will grow to more than 9 billion, the global demand for food will increase, and the demand for the agricultural sector will also increase. A large investment in research and development can ensure that Cummins can provide a diverse portfolio of power products.
Facts have proved that this is not just because they are popular to provide new power solutions, but to provide customers with the right to choose and provide the right power solutions for multiple work cycles. The progress of ultra-clean diesel technology shows that it will continue to be the power source of choice for heavy machinery in the foreseeable future. However, we cannot ignore the potential of energy diversity, and the Cummins acquisition enables it to meet this challenge well.