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Electric Tractors  RSS feed

 
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So what's yout opinion on electric tractors?

I know that Paul Wheaton had one that he didn't like but that he had recommended Steve Heckeroth's electric tractors in the past.

Anyone have one or used one that you either liked or didn't like?

Thanks
 
pollinator
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I love the idea of them, and I think they are the right answer on the right tractor on the right farm!

For me, they would not work so well because I just plain have too much acreage and need mobility, but for a 5 and 10 acre farm, I would think they would work quite well. In fact when the crap did hit the fan, or at least as the world knew it at the time which was during World War II, a lot of places that could not get fuel converted tractors to electric and managed to survive by farming/gardening. Nothing ensures the future like looking back at what worked in history.

With todays highly efficient motors, a better knowledge of electricity itself, and better insulating properties, a lot could be done. This might be using tractors inside greenhouses where crops can be grown year around, and yet electric tractors be used to take the toil off the farmer, or it might be an outside system where a gantry wire system powers the tractor.

Repowering a tractor from diesel/gas to electric though is quite easy, and advantageous as long as the right tractor is used. I have always been a huge proponent of the two wheel tractor and own one myself. In my case it was repowered from an orginal 13 HP down to 8 HP, but it still powers everything just fine. But considering an electric motor has far more usable power because of its constant torque over that of a gasoline engine, even a modest 3 HP electric motor could be used with no loss in ability. These motors are cheap, a 3 HP 220 Volt motor being had at Harbor Freight for less than $200, and they would easily bolt up to housing of a 2 wheel tractor...many, many people have done it. But do not be dismayed, single phase 5 and 7 hp engines are also available.

So why have many 2 wheel tractor owners made the conversion? Power, longevity, cost, lack of smell from exhaust fumes, exhust in a closed building, inability to get fuel, constant supply of electricity, noise, weight, starting, ease of handling, smooth of operation, etc...a lot of reasons really. Granted a person is not going to put up a powerline extending from their main house to access acres upon acres of land, but for a few acres, an electric powered, 2 wheel tractor makes incredible sense.

 
pollinator
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I am with you on that, Travis, but for a single point.

I think that the idea of an electric tractor with the ability to swap battery banks at, say, solar charging stations positioned at strategic points around a property, could solve for many of the range and power density issues you mention. But ultimately, yes, unless you spend crazy money on distributed charging infrastructure, or insanely power-dense energy storage, I think that a large enough property, depending on use, will require more energy density than even expensive batteries might provide.

I wonder, though, about the feasibility of repurposing electric car batteries, once they start becoming available after their useful driving life has expired. As I understand it, lack of range will be the prime reason to swap them for new ones in electric vehicles. I will need to find some numbers on this, but those batteries should still have quite a bit of useful life to them in different applications. Most talk of home battery backups or off-grid battery banks for intermittent power sources, but I think that electric tractors are an area where they could be transformative.

The other thing I was thinking about with regards to the power density thing on larger properties is the idea of an electric tractor with an onboard gas, diesel, propane, or natural gas backup generator, whereby the gennie only kicks in to charge the batteries below a certain power level, and only operates within its optimal range, meaning it would run as cleanly and efficiently as possible when needed to charge the batteries.

Contrast that with gas or diesel tractors that basically remain on the whole time they are being used. It's not as good as solar-charged electric, but it would offer more range, and still be better than a conventional tractor.

What sort of use are you looking to put an electric tractor to, Penny?

-CK
 
pollinator
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I'm a big fan of electric vehicles and have been for decades, but they have some obvious drawbacks.

Electric Tractors can work great...if you have a small homestead.  It takes about 750lbs of lead-acid batteries to hold the equivalent usable energy as 1 gallon of diesel.  Weight can be useful on a tractor, but after a point you start running out of room.  Probably somewhere around 1 ton of Lead-Acid batteries, roughly equivalent to 2-3 gallons of diesel.

Li-Ion batteries are a promising alternative.  With their higher energy density you could fit enough on a large tractor to provide the usable energy equivalent of perhaps 12 gallons of diesel.  The downside is that such a battery would currently cost about $40,000

Things are a bit better if you can get by with a smaller, "garden", tractor.  Back in the 70s GE produced the Elec-Trak garden tractor.  It used 6 golf cart batteries (roughly the equivalent of 1/2 gallon of fuel).  That would probably be sufficient for a small-medium size permaculture homestead.  There was also the Electric Ox and Wheelhorse tractors. 

You could build something similar today that used Li-Ion batteries and could store the energy equivalent of about 2 gallons of fuel, which I think would be sufficient for a small farm of perhaps 10-20 acres.  This smaller battery pack would only cost $2000-$3000.

Unfortunately I don't think there are any companies that are currently producing electric farm/yard tractors.  However, you might be able to find a used Elec-Trak, Wheelhorse, or Ox
 
Penny McLoughlin
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Thanks for the all the insights and ideas to think about.

I'm planning to do an off grid homestead where I would be using solar power for the house. The property that looks most promising to us is 154 acres but I would be buying it with my dad and only be homesteading maybe 20 acres of it.

I'm looking to set it up in a permaculture style and so not be using the tractor for tilling or cultivating but moving trees, sculpting terraces, making hugulkulture mounds, cleaning out animal shelters after the winter, trenching for water lines and infrastructure.

I like the idea of electric tractors since I'm already planning to utilize solar electric and I like the power that they have in the electric tractors. Along with the quietness and lack of fumes. They also seem more stable (this land is sloping to hilly) with their batteries being set quite low in the tractors.

Is Steve Heckeroth still actively making electric tractors? I found his website and sent him an information request but never heard back from him.
 
Peter VanDerWal
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You can often find old tractors with bad motors really cheap.  Modifying one of those to electric wouldn't be terribly difficult.  Given the requirements you mentioned it wouldn't need a very large battery pack, and it would possibly even connect the tractor to your house in such a way that it's batteries work as a backup to the house batteries during storms, etc.  Times when you're not likely to be needing the tractor anyway.

I would look for an old tractor, and an old electric forklift (for the drive motor and possibly motor controller)
 
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I love the idea of electric tractors, and given their size it seems likely that we could design one with a large built-in solar array that unfolded when not in use (built in hydraulics!). But batteries have always been my problem. Peter brought up the power issue, but temperature is often my struggle. Leave any battery outside in the cold for the winter and it'll half the life if not more. One of the more useful things about tractors to me is that you can just leave them where they need to be, and that they can service remote locations without any utilities. Electric tractors would need temperature controlled storage and continuous charging to survive most winters and keep the (very expensive!) battery happy.

But that's also a challenge I have for all kinds of electric devices. I hope that we'll overcome that with advances soon. A battery that is temperature resilient would be amazing.
 
Penny McLoughlin
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Good point about the batteries and issues with the cold. I hadn't considered that.

I've heard of people having an extra battery pack and keeping one in a charged state and ready to go. Sort of like battery powered drills and such I imagined. But I don't know how heavy and cumbersome a battery back for a tractor would be? Quite heavy I would think !

We're planning to do earth sheltered buildings so keeping it inside the barn/shop might keep the batteries at a tolerable temperature in the winter but we would have to make sure to put it back there when not in use. Do batteries even generate heat when they are in use? I've never paid attention to our power tools that way. Could the tractor (or other electric vehicle) have issues when taken out for use on a very cold day?

For the idea of modifying a gas or diesel tractor into an electric, that sounds like a very interesting idea !  Do you know if there are plans or videos for that sort of thing online?
 
Travis Johnson
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Chris Kott wrote:I am with you on that, Travis, but for a single point.




No problem Chris, no one person here is smarter than all of us put together, so collectively we can generate some ideas. I have very little working experience with batteries except the huge 32 volt ones we had on the railroad, so I was thinking more about hooking a 2 wheel tractor direct to the grid.


I did see though that a guy on youtube made his own homemade 2 wheel tractor using batteries as you suggest...



 
Travis Johnson
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And now for something completely different; just in case someone wanted to build a fully robotic electric tractor...

 
pollinator
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Penny McLoughlin wrote:

I'm looking to set it up in a permaculture style and so not be using the tractor for tilling or cultivating but moving trees, sculpting terraces, making hugulkulture mounds, cleaning out animal shelters after the winter, trenching for water lines and infrastructure.



I would encourage you look outside the scope of a tractor, based on the uses. Since acquiring one, my tractor is used very rarely.

Tractors dont really dig. They scrape very little of the top. To dig a trench(swale) requires either running a plow, disc, or tiller off the back, then using the bucket to move the dirt.  With my skidsteer i can literally dig out a swale.

My tractor (32hp) wont carry a round bale, my skidsteer will. My tractor can barely knock down brush, skidsteer will knock it down, pull it up, pretty much get it done.

Travis probably has better input on types of machinery. My knowledge is limited to tractors and skidsteers. But as big as the investment is, getting the right type is key.
 
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The Russians built a massive electric tractor during the war, a real beast. Personally I plan on buying a walk-behind for creating our market garden. We’d love to have an electric UTV, but no budget for it, so thinking a fat tired 48v electric bike for zipping around, maybe with a towable cart that could hold some tools.

One idea I’ve been exploring is an electric powered, light weight, agricultural cart with high clearance that could be used in a prone or sitting position and would allow slowing creeping along vegetable rows for various tasks. Basically to reduce/eliminate stooping, or working while sitting down.  I’ve seen expensive versions and even a solo at powered diy project and types that tow behind a tractor. One inherent advantage of electric motors over internal combustion they can be efficient when running at low/slow power.
 
Penny McLoughlin
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Interesting on the skid steer.

I hadn't thought of something with tracks because of how they tear up the ground but you're right in that they are more effective with moving dirt.

I was actually thinking of using a backhoe for the digging part of things but realistically we would probably hire out the major initial earthworks to have someone do them correctly and speedily.

After that I could add onto the basics with more hugulkulture beds and such after we got our house and animal winter structures set up.

Do skid steers have the option to put other attachments like post hole diggers or trenches on the rear?

Has anyone seen electric skid steers?
 
Travis Johnson
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wayne fajkus wrote:My tractor (32hp) wont carry a round bale, my skidsteer will.



To me this does not sound right. I have a tiny 25 HP Kubota tractor and I can move round bales easily with it. In fact, not only will it move a round bale, it can move two of them. To do this I use a chain to scoop up the round bale with the bucket, then encircle it with a chain and lift the bale up. Then I back into the next bale with my winch on back. I run the cable out from my winch, encircle the bale and hook the cable to the winch. I then winch it in, lift up my 3 point hitch and can go with 2 bales. The weight on the rear of the tractor compensating for the weight on the front.

No winch is needed though, a loader spike, or a 3 point hitch spike can do the same thing.
 
wayne fajkus
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Penny McLoughlin wrote:




Do skid steers have the option to put other attachments like post hole diggers or trenches on the skid steer?



Plenty of attachments. Post hole digger. My stump bucket can also dig a nice 24" x 18" trench. Some mower decks can be set over a 6ft tall thicket and shred it as you lower it to the ground. Compared to having to bend it over with normal mower deck on tractor. Bad ass stuff.

The cool part. Except for things that need hydraulics (mower, post hole), the attachments swap out without getting out of skidsteer.  I know some bigger tractors do this, but mine doesnt.

 
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James Whitelaw wrote:Personally I plan on buying a walk-behind for creating our market garden.



I can attest to a David Bradley with all implements being a very viable choice for a market garden whether electric or gas powered.
 
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