California-based Solectrac has unveiled a $45,000 fully-electric tractor called the eUtility. The company says the eUtility is the first American-built battery-powered tractor and it has a 40 horsepower motor that can outpace diesel tractors in power and torque at low speeds while maintaining comparable performance at higher speeds. The 28-kilowatt-hour battery is supposed to provide four to eight hours of operational time on a charge, depending how much you ask of it.
Lower maintenance costs — As the market for private vehicles moves faster towards electrification, prices are coming down for batteries, and that provides an opening for the heavy-duty construction and agricultural industries alike. Electric vehicles generally require less maintenance than combustion engine variants because there are far fewer moving parts and fewer fluids, air filters, and other consumables that need to be replaced regularly. That's appealing, as is the notion of using zero-emissions hardware to farm as populations grow and global warming worsens.
Batteries vs. fuel cells — Since the eUtility doesn't have extended run time, it's more suited for environments where operators don't have to traverse huge distances to get to the fields that need working. Solectrac is selling an $10,000 swappable battery pack so the battery can quickly be replaced when there isn't a power source nearby. The tractor can be charged to 80 percent in three hours. The company believes that the eUtility will be ideal for smaller farms. But as the technology evolves, we wouldn't be surprised to see it turning up in gear designed for larger-scale operations.
Other companies have been experimenting with creating electrifying heavy machinery, though using hydrogen fuel cells instead of batteries. Those are still zero emissions, but they can be refueled much faster than a battery. Anglo American, for instance, is planning on testing a 290-ton hydrogen-powered mining truck in South Africa that would be the largest electric vehicle in the world.
Beyond construction — Besides construction vehicles, fully-electric delivery trucks are on the way. Amazon created an electric truck in partnership with Rivian, and says it plans to buy 100,000 of them with deliveries expected to start in 2022.
Businesses are expected to adopt electric vehicles quickly as their heavy use means they can see a return on investment faster than a consumer whose car sits idle much of the day. Transitioning to electric can also contribute to a company's social responsibility goals — consumers may feel more willing to purchase from Amazon if they know it's reducing its environmental damage caused by delivery. Perhaps one day produce will include information on the green credentials of the equipment used to grow it.