Danish methanol fuel cell components and systems developer, Blue World Technologies, and AGCO Power, a specialist in agricultural equipment design and manufacturing, have joined forces to pioneer a breakthrough solution aimed at extending the range and operational capabilities of electric tractors. Their innovative concept, rooted in Blue World Technologies' fuel cell platform, utilizes methanol as a liquid fuel to substantially enhance the tractor's runtime.
Through the development of prototypes and rigorous field testing, the companies report early success with their “Tractor Range Extender Concept.” This concept relies on liquid methanol, produced using carbon-captured CO2 and hydrogen, which is subsequently converted into a hydrogen-rich gas to power the fuel cells. These fuel cells generate electricity, which in turn charges the tractor's batteries during operation. When powered by renewable methanol, this platform enables net-zero operation, making it an environmentally friendly solution for modern agriculture.
Blue World Technologies emphasizes that its high-temperature Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology, operating on methanol, offers several advantages, including extended operational durations and quick refueling, akin to conventional liquid fuels such as diesel.
Kari Aaltonen, Director of Engineering at AGCO Power, underscores the significance of this development, stating, “Agriculture is currently going through a transformation and is looking for a new propulsion solution that can be aligned with climate protection. Green methanol is a suitable candidate, and due to its liquid nature, it is possible to store it in a tank, much like diesel fuel. This means storing it does not require the same complex arrangements as storing hydrogen, for example. The high electrical efficiency of the Blue World fuel cells makes it ideal to combine with methanol.”
Blue World Technologies further notes that its fuel cell platform is highly adaptable to suit various applications and power requirements. Methanol fuel cells are not limited to agricultural machinery alone but extend their potential to heavy-duty transport, material handling, construction, and maritime applications. Each fuel cell stack typically comprises 90 to 160 cells, providing 5 to 20 kW of power, and multiple fuel cell stacks can be combined to meet specific power demands.
These methanol fuel cells are built upon high-temperature (HT) PEM technology, operating at temperatures ranging from 160 to 180°C, demonstrating a high resistance to impurities. An intriguing aspect of HT PEM fuel cells is their ability to efficiently utilize waste heat. The heat generated by the fuel cell can be harnessed to drive the methanol-reforming process, optimizing the overall system efficiency. Additionally, waste heat can be repurposed for additional energy recovery. The fuel cell platform boasts an electrical efficiency ranging from 40% to 60%, depending on the load.
This development marks a significant step in the adoption of methanol fuel cell technology, which was initially introduced by Roland Gumpert for a concept electric car in 2019. Over time, methanol fuel cell technology has been identified as particularly well-suited for heavy-duty applications, showcasing its potential to revolutionize sustainable energy solutions in various sectors, including agriculture and transportation.