METHANE and natural gas may be emerging as the fuel of the future according to some engine manufacturers.
At Agritechnia this month FPT Industrial, a division of CNH) displayed for the first time their prototype NEF 6 cylinder natural gas engine designed specifically for agricultural machinery.
In a statement, FPT said the engine delivers the same performance as diesel engines, in terms of power, torque, durability and maintenance intervals, with the benefit of emission reduction.
“In real agricultural working conditions carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by a minimum of ten per cent when compared to a standard diesel tractor,” it said.
“They become nearly zero when using bio-methane.
“Polluting emissions are reduced by 80 per cent on average when compared to a standard diesel engine.”
FPT said the engine is based on stoichiometric combustion technology, which ensures the correct chemical balance between air and methane.
“The technology is enabled by proprietary control strategy, specific piston design and multi-point injection,” it said.
“Methane is injected in the intake manifold through a set of dedicated methane injectors and then air-gas mix is ignited by the spark plug in the combustion chamber.”
The optimised combustion results in improved engine efficiency, which FPT said resulted in 10-30pc cost saving on comparable diesel engines.
“The spark-ignited combustion reduces vibration and engine noise,” it said.
“Emission compliance is reached with maintenance free three way catalytic converter technology.”
FPT said this is a simpler and lighter solution then the systems used in diesel engines.
Gas exhausts run at higher temperatures, FPT said they have used a specific water-cooled turbocharger to cope with this.
According to the specification sheet, peak power for the in-line six cylinder engine is 132 kilowatts (180 horsepower) with maximum torque of 740 newton metres.
Gas vs diesel
The fit for Australian farmers is not as clear compared to their European counterparts where pollution, carbon dioxide emissions and noise policies support the fuel alternative.
Australia’s vast distances, pricing, lack of supply chain and incentives mean significant changes would need to occur for widespread broadacre adoption of natural gas as agricultural fuel, compared to the currently more economic diesel.
This does not mean Australian farmers should not take note of developments in this area, as cutting edge engine redesign is likely to have flow-on benefits for diesel engines.
Methane, the major component of natural gas can be produced through bio-plant equipment from plant and waste materials, which while impractical at this stage for most broadacre farms, could have a fit in horticultural and intensive mixed farming enterprises.
Stage 5 diesel
FPT also unveiled their new F36 tier five diesel engine at Agritechnica.
FPT said the new engine was designed for mid-range tractors and tele-handlers.
The 3.6 litre in-line four cylinder engine includes a new turbocharger and optimised piston design to cope with higher performance, FPT said.
Capable of 105 kW (143 hp) and torque up to 600 Nm, which FPT said is the best power and torque density on the market.