Hydrogen tractor on the way

Will we soon be driving hydrogen-powered tractors? Photo by Holly Curtis

Australia should have its first hydrogen tractor by the middle of the year as part of a $50 million investment in sustainable agriculture research.

The tractor, which is being procured from Europe, will be tested in an Australian landscape under a partnership between Charles Sturt University and industry.

“We’re bringing it in as a research tractor because our first goal is to demonstrate to the industry that hydrogen tractors can deliver — we can also validate their level of performance,” Nick Pagett from Charles Sturt University said.

The dual-fuel tractor will need to meet various regulatory requirements while research will be conducted on hydrogen fuel supply, given the limited number of hydrogen fuel stations in Australia.

“We need to understand how not only will a tractor operate on hydrogen but also what’s the supply stream that’s required,” Nick said.

The multi-million dollar investment in sustainable agriculture will also examine how hydrogen can be produced in regional areas.

With no hydrogen refuelling stations in regional Australia, Nick said the university would need to examine whether it was possible to scale up hydrogen production on farms.

The investment would also test other new technologies such as precision spraying and biogas conversion.

The university said it hoped to support farmers to improve the health of their soil and reduce on-farm greenhouse gas emissions by demonstrating the relevant technology could help.

“We will also look into hydrogen-driven generators and fuel cells that can support irrigation systems and replace electricity supply, and how we can use agricultural products as feed ‘stock’ for hydrogen production, such as cereal stubble, rice hulls and the waste from feedlots,” Nick said.

“That’s the production side, then we need to demonstrate how ag can adopt and use the technology.

“Currently the new and emerging renewables are city-centric and mainstream.

“They don’t correlate with how agriculture and inland Australia needs to adapt to the emerging renewables market, so we’ve analysed the gaps and identified where to make the investment.

“The critical measure for the success of these programs is seeing the increase in adoption of technology and therefore the improvements in sustainability measures as well as productivity improvements.”

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has welcomed the investment and said it would help boost sustainability in the sector.

“Initiatives such as this are good for farmers,” Senator Watt said.