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electric tractor

                


Joined: Jul 02, 2011
Posts: 6
I already have an electric tractor,  just dosn't have the power system set up yet.  I used a 15 hp  3ph motor from the junkyard to replace the engine on my john deer 2010 just to carry the flywheel with a large twin B pulley on the shaft driven by a subaru engine mounted above it,  2-1 drive to reduce the car engine rpm to what the tractor was.  (tractor engine was worn out and cost over $1000 just for parts to rebuild)  Been making hay and logging with it.    I figured I'd build a generator system eventually and try running the electric motor with it.  It might be a bit small for the tractor but I can work it slow when we get there,  or add a second motor in place of the gas engine coupled to the first one with the belt drive.  The generator/controller I'm working on is something based on 130 year old technology that was lost sight of in the age of big energy dollar figures.  Perfected by a modern electrical engineer but still virtually unheard of.  If I can get it to work it'll be something worth passing the plans around,  since it'll be very cheap to make.  Most of it from salvaged junk.
Dave Bennett


Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
reubenT wrote:
I already have an electric tractor,  just dosn't have the power system set up yet.  I used a 15 hp  3ph motor from the junkyard to replace the engine on my john deer 2010 just to carry the flywheel with a large twin B pulley on the shaft driven by a subaru engine mounted above it,  2-1 drive to reduce the car engine rpm to what the tractor was.   (tractor engine was worn out and cost over $1000 just for parts to rebuild)  Been making hay and logging with it.    I figured I'd build a generator system eventually and try running the electric motor with it.  It might be a bit small for the tractor but I can work it slow when we get there,  or add a second motor in place of the gas engine coupled to the first one with the belt drive.  The generator/controller I'm working on is something based on 130 year old technology that was lost sight of in the age of big energy dollar figures.   Perfected by a modern electrical engineer but still virtually unheard of.  If I can get it to work it'll be something worth passing the plans around,  since it'll be very cheap to make.  Most of it from salvaged junk.
15hp is a lot for an electric motor compared to an internal combustion engine.  150hp x .23 (average efficiency) = 34.5 HP.  The torque from the 15hp motor will amaze you.  Electric motors run cooler and more efficiently at higher rpm so you may not have to be slow if you can make enough juice to run your motor.


"When there is no life in the soil it is just dirt."
"MagicDave"
                


Joined: Jul 02, 2011
Posts: 6
yes,  I know they are much stronger for the HP than IC technology,  the original subaru hybrid conversion featured in MEN used a 10HP aircraft starter/generator,  but they did add a cooling blower.  We have a subaru we have converted to EV with junk yard electric forklift parts, motor is probably be around 15 HP, 36-48V DC, it runs,  but we only had 4 regular car batteries on it and it pulled the voltage down hard just to start moving.  So it's also waiting for my power supply.    I also have a 25 hp AC motor,  will put it in my 3/4 ton truck just as soon as I can power it suitably. 
  I was homeschooled and started at around 13 YO over 30 years ago visiting a big city library and reading the stories of inventors and their inventions,  been at it ever since.  I've come across some very strange inventions and talked to some modern inventors who were being shut down by big business.  there's been a  lot of stuff invented in the relm of energy that the general public has never heard of,  stuff that would have wiped big oil out of existence many times over, which is why you never hear of it. I gotta be very careful what I say. stick with general terms,  The world and it's governments are held under slavery by big business  worse than hardly anyone realizes.  While they maintain a fairly nice public image.  It way too big for anyone to fight,  all we can do is a few of us figure out stuff for ourselves and shut up about it so we don't get our heads chopped off.    Mr T tried to give it to the world over 100 years ago but they stopped him then,  and are still stopping it,  so they can make big money on energy. 
Dave Bennett


Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
reubenT wrote:
yes,  I know they are much stronger for the HP than IC technology,   the original subaru hybrid conversion featured in MEN used a 10HP aircraft starter/generator,   but they did add a cooling blower.   We have a subaru we have converted to EV with junk yard electric forklift parts, motor is probably be around 15 HP, 36-48V DC, it runs,   but we only had 4 regular car batteries on it and it pulled the voltage down hard just to start moving.   So it's also waiting for my power supply.    I also have a 25 hp AC motor,   will put it in my 3/4 ton truck just as soon as I can power it suitably. 
   I was homeschooled and started at around 13 YO over 30 years ago visiting a big city library and reading the stories of inventors and their inventions,  been at it ever since.  I've come across some very strange inventions and talked to some
modern inventors who were being shut down by big business.  there's been a  lot of stuff invented in the relm of energy that the general public has never heard of,  stuff that would have wiped big oil out of existence many times over, which is why you never hear of it. I gotta be very careful what I say. stick with general terms,  The world and it's governments are held under slavery by big business  worse than hardly anyone realizes.  While they maintain a fairly nice public image.   It way too big for anyone to fight,   all we can do is a few of us figure out stuff for ourselves and shut up about it so we don't get our heads chopped off.    Mr T tried to give it to the world over 100 years ago but they stopped him then,  and are still stopping it,  so they can make big money on energy. 

If you can find the old style truck batteries (24-28 volts) get as many as you can find.  The ones with the rubber cases.  They are easy to rebuild.
                                    


Joined: Aug 11, 2011
Posts: 3
That old tractor brings up a lot of memories watching my grandpa in a tractor like that. It is amazing how far things have come, especially farm equipment, thank you John Deere.
Peter Ingot


Joined: Sep 06, 2011
Posts: 50
Ken Peavey wrote:

Its essentially a solar PV generator on wheels.  Electricity where you need it.  Did you catch the part about plugging it into his house if the power goes down?

If it can be plugged in, it can be powered by this rig.  Chainsaws, lawn mowers, brush trimmers, power tools, post hole diggers, pumps, all sorts of uses.

I suspect that for this kind of work it is a mains powered device supplemented  by solar power, but I'm willing to be proved wrong.

Comparing the efficiency of petrol motors to electric motors  is a little misleading.You must also consider the efficiency of electricity generation and transmitting, in fact the whole cycle of both systems  ,which I guess also includes drilling, transporting and refining oil.

Whatever, electricity generation is at  best 60% and usually 40%  or less.

If much of the mains electricity is coming from, say, gas fired generators. A gas/solar electric powered hybrid vehicle might actually be more efficient and better for the environment.

Solar panels take a lot  of energy to build. How environmentally friendly they are depends on their lifespan. I hope these panels are well protected from overhanging branches etc.

There are  still some steam  enthusiasts looking to the future. Vehicles powered by solid fuel (such as  charcoal) might have potential.Unlike most alternative energy discussions on the web,this one has a high ratio of engineers to conspiracy theorists (well done permies!) so I'm throwing the idea out there.

I already have a solar powered all terrain vehicle. The cost was about 150Euros (including trailer). Efficiency is extremely high, and the vehicle is low maintenance. I am currently awaiting the next generation hybrid model which promises to be just as efficient but higher performance.  pic attached:-D


[Thumbnail for ianandmaggiecropped.JPG]

Dave Bennett


Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
I am also a big fan of amylase convert biomass ethanol.  When properly adjusted internal combustion engines are equal to gasoline engines in power production and have extremely low emissions.  Biomass "syngas" is also an excellent source for clean ethanol as well as methanol conversion from the methane produced by the gas generation.  When properly processed ethyl ester biodiesel is actually as easy to produce as the methyl ester version.  The advancements that have been made in recent years to "biomass gasifiers" will allow easily regenerated feedstock to be used as well.  I believe that the efficiency of electric motors as compared to internal combustion engines is where the research would be most productive though.
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4830
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
181
Pignut wrote:
I already have a solar powered all terrain vehicle. The cost was about 150Euros (including trailer). Efficiency is extremely high, and the vehicle is low maintenance. I am currently awaiting the next generation hybrid model which promises to be just as efficient but higher performance.  pic attached


Ooh - I have one of those!  I think mine is a slightly larger model.  Are you going to raise your own 'next generation' model?  I intend to, but I'm not going for hybrid as that tends to make the following generation a bit tricky...



What is a Mother Tree ?
Peter Ingot


Joined: Sep 06, 2011
Posts: 50
Magnificent! yes mine is a rather small model, but very powerful for its size.We forgot to mention that lawn mowing and hedge trimming comes as standard with these tractors. Not  only that, but they shred  and mulch as well and can run on auto pilot!

I suspect the next generation hybrid model may have gone into production a few months back when the vehicle was running on auto pilot, but I wasn't present or consulted on the matter so I can't be entirely sure!

From what I've seen of the hybrids they seem very powerful and their lifespan is extremely long but, yes on the downside, subsequent generation models are very rare
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4830
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
181
Pignut wrote:
I suspect the next generation hybrid model may have gone into production a few months back when the vehicle was running on auto pilot,


Ah yes, the self-regenerating versions do seem to have a rather uncontrolable auto pilot on occasion.  Especially as the days are lengthening in the Spring - the solar tracker system must have some sort of daylight-measuring device built in, and it tends to cause the alarm-system to sound rather loudly and frequently just to warn you that auto-pilot is about to make your pride and joy go awol. 

That's why geldings, and hybrid ones at that, are pretty well the only sort left in Portugal - pure mares are incredibly hard to find, and it's going to get worse so I'm determined to breed a 'pure' version to try to keep things going. 
Ryan Carver


Joined: Dec 01, 2011
Posts: 2
How long do typical batteries that would be used for this function last before they need to be replaced? Does temperature play a role?
Amit Enventres


Joined: Mar 24, 2011
Posts: 120
    
    3
A general rule of thermodynamics is that when converting energy from one form to another energy is lost (to heat, noise, etc) So, if you have a gas engine, you convert heat energy to mechanical energy. With electrical power you convert electrical energy to mechanical energy. Either way you have losses. On top of that, there are lots of gears, lever, etc. that convert the type of movement energy. Energy is lost. If the machine works, the loss is not too great and may just be worth it to get what you want done. However, as long as you rely on a machine that requires an energy conversion, you will have a loss. Levers, pullies, and gears are likely necessary since you want to move more than you can directly. You can maximize efficiency by keeping everything well oiled and clean. The question I have is: Is there a better solution to moving large amounts of stuff than using energy sources that require a conversion?

The most efficient system has been proven to be that of animals. Why? Well, they eat your stuble and convert it to stuff more easily plant available and also provide you with food. There are never any oil spills and are parts are reusable and biodegradeable. Now, the animal still takes chemical energy and converts that to mechanical energy, but he's likely to do at least some of that anyway. Whether he's chewing his cud and watching you drive around on the tractor or pulling the equipment himself, he's got to eat.

At the same time, if you are selling leafy greens, you can forget the animal. Not allowed. Go for the electric. If you don't like animals or have no patience to care for them - find some other way. But, I thought I'd just post for your consideration.
Mike Dayton


Joined: Dec 15, 2010
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
On the Battery life issue, it depends on the type of battery and the way you use them. For this purpose the deep cycle batteys work best. They are designed to give off their power and be recharged. Automotive batterys are not designed to do that well, they are designed for cranking power. The other thing is how you use them. If you run them until the tractor just chugs to a complete halt and the battery is 100% drained, you might be able to recharge that battery 100 times. If you run it until it is at about 1/2 charge you can recharge that same battery 1000 times. Heat and cold do make a diff. I would guess that you should get 3 to 4 years of hard work out of the batterys. Maybe 5 or 6 if you are very lucky and take care of them.


Never doubt that a small group of dedicated people can change the world,  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. Formerly pa_friendly_guy_here
Suzy Bean
steward

Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
    
    8
Paul and Anna Birkas discuss natural swimming pools, the DVD and the subject (part 2) in this podcast.

Paul shares his enthusiasm for Steve Heckeroth's solar electric, 45 horsepower tractor.


www.thehappypermaculturalist.wordpress.com
Ardilla Esch


Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 183
Location: Northern New Mexico, Zone 5b
    
    3
My thoughts exactly. Hydraulics would suck a huge amount of energy. The pump on my small tractor maintains 2,500 psi and pumps quite a bit of fluid at that pressure when the front end loader or back hoe are being used.

The speed of actuators would be important for many tasks. And would they be durable enough to repeatedly push a loader bucket into piles?

gary reif wrote:would using hydraulics for a front end loader suck a lot of juice since the pump would run all the time?

could use linear acutuators but the are slow and expensive for sizes you would need .

any ideas or thoughts?

I would love to build an elec tractor
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15262
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I visited with Steve Heckeroth at length and he sent me this big gob of stuff to share with you all:













electric tractors

EV Charging

Heckeroth Homestead

Solar Charging article for "Solar Today"

Solar Design

Solar Electricity Production

solar tractors for agriculture

SolTrac solar electric tractor

SolTrac electric tractor

why we need electric cars



sign up for my daily-ish email / rocket mass heater 4-DVD set / permaculture playing cards
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4830
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
181
Paul has now made a 3 hour podcast with Steve Heckeroth about electric tractors.

It's split into three parts, links below.

Steve Heckeroth Electric Tractors Part 1 - Paul Wheaton talks with Steve Heckeroth, who has made an electric tractor. Paul shares about his electric golf cart, which he used for a lot around the farm. Steve talks about the energy that goes into food production (moreso than its transportation). Steve uses DC motors. They talk about traction. Steve talks about using an 80 lb battery in the front rather than buying weights. Steve talks about the Scratchbuilt tractor, (Number 7) which also collects solar energy. He talks about making farming easier by not having to look backwards while driving. There are several positions you can sit in. The tractor is directed by a joystick, which can stick in place, and can go so slow that you can’t see it moving. This is great for going back to the back seat on the ground to plant flats or harvest as you creep along. The tractor is very quiet, and can turn on and off easily. They talk about using vegetable oil in hydraulics. The tractor also has a camera and can be remote control operated. Steve talks about minesweep tractors that would explode landmines in post-war areas. They compare Steve’s tractors and their efficiency to traditional 45 horsepower tractors. Steve talks about linear actuators. Steve talks about regen, putting energy back into your batteries when you brake. They talk about in-wheel motors. You don’t need a clultch in an electric vehicle.

Steve Heckeroth Electric Tractors Part 2 - Paul Wheaton continues talking with Steve Heckeroth, who has made an electric tractor. Steve talks about linear actuators. Steve talks about regen, putting energy back into your batteries when you brake. They talk about in-wheel motors. You don’t need a clultch in an electric vehicle, which makes things a little easier. They talk about having a couple battery packs. Paul shares about his electric chainsaw. The solar charging shed can also serve the needs of the home if the grid goes down. All you need is an inverter. Steve shares about using electric cars. They talk about battery weight. Paul talks about reusing lead acid batteries, and Steve says they are 100% recyclable. Steve shares about how long his 2 Prius cars have lasted on one battery. They talk about the movie, Who Killed the Electric Car. They talk about fuel savings and economy. Steve talks about car-sharing for trips or picking up things that weigh a lot.

Steve Heckeroth Electric Tractors Part 3 - Paul Wheaton continues talking with Steve Heckeroth, who has made an electric tractor. Paul shares about his tractor and truck. Steve talks about linear actuators, and hydraulic cylinders. They talk about some more of Steve’s tractor designs, which have even more power despite being smaller in size. They talk about its having tracks, and how it impacts a farmers‘ soil. The tractors can lift 1200 lbs. Steve talks about visibility and seeing forward and backward. Steve talks about making the tractors yourself. They talk about small farmers making money, and the market for small tractors. It is less expensive if you buy more than one. Paul explains his paddock shift system with his cattle, and moving the shelter around with his tractor. They talk about things you need a tractor for. Steve shares about being asked to help make a solar-powered Maharishi University in central India in ’95, and he was the only person in the world at that time making tractors that could run off the sun. Steve shares his contact info. They talk about how fast the tractors go. Steve shares about some unfortunate solar cell fate, courtesy of Chevron. They talk about gasoline. Steve talks about Revenge of the Electric Car. Paul talks about stopping by Steve’s when he goes on tour.
Kari Gunnlaugsson
volunteer

Joined: Jun 22, 2011
Posts: 308
    
    8
Why make it soooo difficult? Use the original solar tractor. Time tested, proven, well developed technology that fed the entire planet until the 1940's. Low impact, low embedded energy, self-replicating, low cost, less soil compaction and contributes to soil fertility and nutrient cycling. More enjoyable to be around. Use draft animals! Use horses, use oxen, use mules, use donkeys, use goats...if you're farming on the scale that requires a tractor there is a draft animal that will suit your system.

Way, way more power than a solar golf cart. More flexibility. Hitch one, hitch two, hitch three...whatever you need, mix it up.

Avoid the massive hidden embedded energy costs and pollution involved in the production of high tech batteries and p.v. modules. Continuing costs...the lifespan on that stuff is about the same as a horse, but it doesn't reproduce. You're going to save about enough energy with solar power to maybe cover the energy production costs of the battery / panel combination over the lifespan of the unit. And the horse decays when it's days are over, it's not a heavy metal disposal / recycling problem to deal with.

I know, I'm shouting...sorry, I feel strongly about this. There are still folks around that know how to make this work, make some connections and help preserve an heirloom technology.

Here is some really cool solar powered community powered TRACTION in action!
crazy building move

horse powered farm example
small farm journal
Norm Nelson


Joined: Dec 18, 2011
Posts: 7
I've had a long interest in renewable energy systems, particularly solar and PV. Like Walk Hatfield above, I also own an old GE Elec-Trak lawn tractor, and I love running that thing and not breathing exhaust or having to wear hearing protection. I'm currently gathering parts to convert a small diesel (21hp) tractor to electric.

First off, reinventions McCoy said it best when he wrote above "... if you use more than a gallon of fuel at a stretch (no breaks or idle time), then your work would likely be interrupted by recharging."... this is the most succinct and important piece of info contained in all the posts above. I assume since reinventions has got a converted Cub he's talking about electric tractor conversions (not scratch-builts), and conversions done with smaller tractors and standard smaller battery packs – somewhere in the 115Ah to 220Ah range. I'm not convinced that this run time couldn't be extended with the use of a slightly bigger tractor and much bigger batteries – something like the 1,000Ah to 1,500Ah batteries that are commonly used in electric forklifts. I have yet to see one of these used on an electric tractor, and at US $4,000 each, I can understand why. I also wonder if there's a point of diminishing returns, where you have too much battery (and therefore too much weight), so you expend a lot of energy just carrying around the heavy battery (that you wouldn't really need if you just went back to the tractor barn and swapped batteries at lunchtime)

I see a few people on here that think we should all "just use animals"... well, I'm wondering if they regularly move xxx yards of soil from the front 40 to the back 40 with just animals... or load bins of grain with animals, or bale hay with animals (and if they don't, how efficient is storing loose hay?)... and those of us that don't yet farm full time and have to keep other job(s) to pay our property taxes and such tend to have less time to spend trying to do farm jobs using animals (because we all know it takes longer), never mind the time spent caring for the animals, making sure they are cared for if we have to travel, making sure we have enough property to grow the feed for them, etc...

Speaking of which... on John Howe's site (referenced in some posts above), there's an analysis of solar tractors vs. biofuel tractors vs. beasts of burden – and as it turns out – for a biofuel tractor (biodiesel, greasel, ethanol) – for every 20 acres farmed, you would need about 5 acres extra to grow fuel crops. For horses – for every 20 acres farmed, you'd need about 7 acres extra to grow "fuel" crops... so either way, you're needing to grow 1/4 to 1/3 more to cover the "expense" of your fuel. In one of the video links that Kari posted above, the horse farmers have 80 acres but only farm 7 acres in food crops. The other part about this is it's not completely scalable... if you have a small patch of land and you only need the work of 1/3 or 1/2 a horse, you can't feed that horse 1/3 as much as it needs to survive. There is an extensive treatise on this and also on battery size and charging, etc. on John Howe's site here:
http://www.solarcarandtractor.com/*/Photovoltaics,_Batteries,_Tractors,_Horses,_and_Biodfuel.html

There is a short summary by someone else here:
http://www.energybulletin.net/node/31513

I also see some people mentioning on here the embodied energy in solar panels – saying that PV panels take a huge amount of energy to make – but I haven't seen anyone cite sources. Being into renewables, I've heard this argument for years – and in the limited research I've done, it turns out that depending on where on earth the PV panels are located (.ie how much sun they get – how much power they make per day / per year), the panels go "net zero" on embodied energy in about two to four years. The warranted life span of most PV panels is 25 years (what other electronic device can you say that about?) with, for instance 90% power output warranted at 10 years and 80% output warranted at 25 years. (I should also mention that the first PV panels ever made are still working, over 50 years later.) So if you buy PV panels today, they will become "net zero energy" in two to four years and then they're warranted for another 21 years – and will likely produce power far longer than that.
Here's an example of a PV panel warranty:
http://files.sharpusa.com/Downloads/Solar/Warranty/sol_dow_Module_Warranty_before_10_2009.pdf

Here's a PV panel embodied energy study:
http://www.energybulletin.net/node/17219

Now we get down to brass tacks. I listened to the four hours of electric tractor podcasts mentioned above, and I think there were some big things that were missed.
First off, Paul kept talking about his 45?hp diesel John Deere, and Steve talked mostly about his #7 scratch-built and his version of an Allis-Chalmers G (the originals of which were about 10hp)... these are three totally different machines! If you have a farm like Paul was talking about and you need a 45hp tractor, you better think long and hard about electric before trying it out... go back to reinvention McCoy's statement above... "if you use more than a gallon of fuel at a stretch"... I can imagine that there were times that Paul was baling hay, or plowing snow, or loading bins of pig food, and he used more than a gallon of diesel at one time. If he had an electric tractor with the technology being discussed here, he would have to be coming back to the barn and swapping batteries – and IIRC, Paul was talking about maintaining 80 acres, while Steven mentioned he has like 1.5 acres... that's a big difference.

I'd like to hear more about Steve's early conversion tractors. I've seen pictures of a small Yanmar diesel with a front loader that Steve converted to electric... he got rid of the steering wheel and all... well, how did that tractor perform? I don't think I'm alone in saying that most small farms could use an all-around tractor like this Yanmar (loader, 3 pt hitch) more than they could a purpose-built planter or cultivator. Most folks don't buy a cultivator as their first tractor... they buy it as their second, third, maybe sixth tractor. Steve's #7 machine looked very promising – if only it had a loader and more powerful wheel motors.

Efficiencies aside, I think there's still a place for hydraulics, and that place is on the loader. The electric / hydraulic pump doesn't have to run all the time, it can be on-demand... (go listen to any electric forklift and you'll hear what I mean)... the hydraulic pump only runs when it's needed. There's optimum efficiency, and then there's necessity – and I think for most people these days a loader is a necessity – and no linear actuator I've seen would cut it on a loader. In the podcast, Paul had mentioned lifting 3,000 lbs. with the loader on his John Deere... I'd be REALLY surprised if either of those tracked machines pictured above would lift a 3,000 lb. grain bin with their loader. I thought Steve mentioned something in the podcast about the bucket on #11 or #12 being a one yard bucket, but then when I saw the pictures on here, it looks like maybe 1/3 yard? I know electric forklifts can lift this sort of weight, but only straight up and down, and then they have hard smooth wheels, so they then can't take that same bin and move it over soft ground... which is why we need tractors.

I'd also like to see / hear of any 25hp+ electric tractors out there that have been converted or purpose built... something with BIG batteries... >1,000 Ah... how do these tractors perform? While we're at it, let's not forget to talk about cold-weather performance. In the podcast, Paul kept talking about ice and snow and living on a mountain, and Steve never mentioned ANYTHING about how poorly lead-acid batteries (and other chemistries too!) perform in the cold... their cold-weather performance is maybe? half... there's a reason why some folks with lead-acid EV's have heat blankets under their batteries... they have to plug them in at night to keep their batteries warm. When you live in coastal California you might not have to worry about such things, but this is a subject that should be discussed – because not all of us live in warm climates, and it's in poor taste to give people false hopes and pie-in-the-sky ideas.

So yeah... do I think the technology is here for electric powered cultivation tractors? Something like the Allis-Chalmers G or the Farmall Cub? Heck yeah, let's convert them! Let's buy new ones from Steve! I'd love to see what Steve's "hobby farm" tractor looks like, too... how big, what features, etc. Let's convert some 20-30hp tractors, too! If anyone has info on other electric tractors, let's see them!

-Norm.
Kari Gunnlaugsson
volunteer

Joined: Jun 22, 2011
Posts: 308
    
    8
Good post Norm, with lots of info. I don't want to hijack the electric tractor thread so just a few points and I'm out of here. I think as permaculturists we should have the discussion about where electric tractors fit in with global sustainability in agriculture. I also think that North Americans tend to have huge cultural blinders on, and regularly dismiss highly effective technologies as quaint and impractical while developing inappropriately high-tech solutions for very simple problems. The draft animals that built the modern world have been caught in that collective cultural amnesia. I'm writing because I am truly concerned with how my grandkids are going to be able to feed themselves in a world where fossil energy is growing increasingly scarce.

I have no problem with PV..when you use it to generate electricity for communication and data processing I think you get a staggering return on the investment in energy and resources. I just don't think that it's appropriate for powering heavy traction...it's not efficient, there are huge impacts, and there are diminishing returns.

For starters you talk about a fork lift battery as appropriate for a good size tractor that could Maybe manage 80 acres. Ok, that's 2000 pounds of lead acid battery, give or take. There are 470 million arable acres in cultivation in the US. Divide by the eighty acre plot and multiply by 2000 pounds and you get close to 12 billion pounds of lead acid battery to farm that land base. It's a non-starter. The mining would be insane. Or you could have a tenth of that mass in even more scarce elements for some high tech battery.

You are completely reliant on a highly functioning industrial economy with specialists and engineers and factories and mines of every metal imaginable, none of which are a sure thing. The batteries don't last. The motors /bearings/ etc...wear out. You can recycle them but it costs energy, and you lose material to inefficiencies each time.

Or you could just use animals. They have done it before. I have horse equipment that's eighty years old, I can fix it with a forge and anvil, and if someone takes care of it it'll last another hundred.

Norm Nelson wrote:
I see a few people on here that think we should all "just use animals"... well, I'm wondering if they regularly move xxx yards of soil from the front 40 to the back 40 with just animals... or load bins of grain with animals, or bale hay with animals (and if they don't, how efficient is storing loose hay?)...


Sure, you can regularly move soil...look at any photos of the massive road building and excavation efforts of the early 20th century. Fresno's and similar buckets with cart wheels. You might also benefit from wondering whether regularly moving soil was an appropriate action. Baling hay only became important when selling hay off your land became a practice (unsustainable) or when we started transporting hay long distances by truck (also unsustainable). Loose hay can be exceptionally high quality and it's a very energy efficient means of sustaining your livestock.

Yes it takes time to care for the animals. That's honest and up front, instead of the unseen impact of all of the resources and outsourced labour that go into making the electric vehicle. Ditto for property to grow / feed them. You mention needing 1/3 more land to sustain draft animals. Up front. The tractor hides it's footprint in resource extraction, fabrication, and energy...the costs are still there, and they are much greater, but you have 'outsourced' it so it doesn't show up on your land...except that we have a finite planet and it's all your land.

Norm Nelson wrote:
(because we all know it takes longer)


This is an unquestioned assumption. Takes longer than what? Longer than my neighbours farming 3000 acres with tractors the size of houses? Sure. Will they be doing that in eighty years? Longer than a guy swapping out thousand pound battery packs every couple hours and wondering if the other one is charged yet? It doesn't take Too Long, if you match your system to available power.

You do make some great points about some of the downsides to draft animals. You need poperty tax money, you've got a day job, and time is scarce. They need care, and it's hard to travel. Not everyone can do it, I just want to offer encouragement for anyone who wants to try. There could be an opportunity to build community and share or trade chores. You say animals don't scale to super small acreage. Don't forgot the humble donkey! Maybe another opportunity for collective community involvement. I would add that it takes a certain personality to handle drafts, and also that for someone without the background the learning curve is enormous, and we have lost so much knowledge collectively over the past hundred years...but to me this makes it even more urgent to preserve, pass on, and encourage this knowledge.

So that's where I'm at with draft animals. They have a lot of problems, but if things get really bad we may we'll need them someday and be glad the tradition is alive. Electric tractors could be a pretty cool hobby and a challenge to engineer, but I don't see them addressing the big picture challenges that are coming our way in a time of energy descent.

ps and not even talking about lawn tractors, lets say you make a 35 horse electric tractor, can it do this??
stuck truck




Morgan Morrigan


Joined: Oct 16, 2011
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
Why not just downsize the tractor?
The Italian walk behind tractor is the answer to the question.
And if you use super capacitors in addition to batteries, you can pretty much instantly recharge.
There is a whole community rebuilding the old US version.
Here is the new chinese one.

http://dftractor.com/2-power-tiller.html

The newest battery discovered is actually graphene sheets and water.
It molecularly structures itself, just add water, and charge.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15262
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I am going to interview Steve Heckeroth on Friday. Any questions for him?
Armin Voigt


Joined: Oct 19, 2011
Posts: 14
Location: Boise, Idaho
    
  20
Which model of his electric tractors would he recommend for transforming 5 acres to permaculture? It would need to do the following: dig swales, make hugelkulture beds, dig a root cellar, terraces, building a sepp holzer roundwood shelter, make a small pond, etc.
Dave Bennett


Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
I think that until the mindset of switching from one energy source that is filthy and inefficient to another that is cleaner doesn't address the problem that the entire system is not sustainable. Trading a fossil fueled tractor for an electric tractor isn't addressing that those machines still have a detrimental impact on the soil. I read over my earlier post and have altered my view considerably. I plan to use donkeys for assisting me with my work. I will still make ethanol and biodiesel albeit in very small quantities for other uses besides running internal combustion engines. I may find that I need to run an electric generator in certain limited and temporary circumstances but overall it seems to me that draft animals are the best way to minimize impact. I don't have any data to back me up but it certainly looks like a pair of donkeys will have much less impact on the environment than an electric tractor. There is no manufacturing pollution to breed donkeys. The same cannot be said for the materials used to manufacture a tractor.
What's the point of promoting a better model for agriculture if you take the same destructive farm equipment and only change the power source? That doesn't make sense to me. Repairing the damage may take key line plowing is some areas that is true but does that suggest that "we" need electric tractors to replace the fossil fueled models? I am not too sure if changing the power source does much to change the philosophy used that brought us to this point. It certainly looks as if an electric tractor can do lots of "stuff" that draft animals cannot accomplish but that can be said of the draft animals compared to the tractor.
Nicola Marchi


Joined: Sep 20, 2011
Posts: 73
    
    3
Where and how did Heckeroth learn to tinker and construct electric vehicles, and how would he recommend someone to learn how to tinker with them now?
Dan alan


Joined: Feb 16, 2012
Posts: 40
    
    2
I made a few projects using small steppers and they are amazing. No gearing is required. Is it possible to get 5 horse power stepper motors?

<img src="http://aquaponics.vacau.com/pics/ChinampaPonics/humanure.gif">
                                                                    


Joined: Jul 10, 2010
Posts: 114
Location: Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Questions for May 18th Interview with Steve:

1) It is great to have the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf but they coast over $30,000.
How can we drive affordable electric cars this year?

2) Do you see the cost of solar coming down to maybe $1USD a watt to make electic transport more of a vialble option for the average man?

3) Do you think any of the pie in the sky battery inventions will come to fruition soon? We always here of MIT or some other group making breakthrough that will be ready in four years. If so what technologies should we watch and invest in.

Kindly,
Campy


We live in Nashville, Tennessee, USA
www.permavations.com
Caleb Larson


Joined: Feb 02, 2011
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
    
    1
Questions for Steve

I would like to know more about what you recommend on battery maintenance to maximize the life span of one of the more expensive components of an electric tractor

- How many watts of solar are you typically mounting on the tractor roofs?

- When parking and Charging at night, how many AC Amps @ 240 Volts are needed to bulk charge?
- What type of battery chargers are you using? Are they similar to you Electric Vehicle Charging Station?

- What is the typically charging schedule to maintain maximum battery life?
- Do you recommend equalization charge from grid/generator power to desulfate the batteries?
- What are your charging recommendations to get the maximum life from your batteries?

-Have you experimented with AGM or other sealed batteries to reduce maintenance?

-You mentioned other companies using on board generators to directly power the electric motors, do you think there is value in having a generator that could be mounted to the tractor for times of heavy usage. ie plowing, bailing etc.

Thanks Steve, you have brought a lot of exciting and useful information to the community!


Rocket Mass Heater Workshop
October 26-28 with Erica & Ernie Wisner
http://www.permies.com/t/14828/missoula-eco-forum/Rocket-Mass-Heater-Workshop-just

For more info or to register
contact Caleb Larson @ ruggedtraditions@gmail.com
Norm Nelson


Joined: Dec 18, 2011
Posts: 7
Questions for Steve Heckeroth:

What's the story with this tractor?:
http://www.evalbum.com/216
It looks like one of his earlier conversions - so how did it work? Is that a separate electric motor for the hydraulic pump that we see on the side? What were the specs on the tractor before and after the conversion? Is the linear actuator steering a result of the steering being so hard because of the weight of the batteries?

In the last podcast, Steve talked a lot about efficiency, wheel motors, and how transmissions lose efficiency, etc... His #7 tractor had wheel motors, but then he mentioned that for his latest (Heckeroth G?) tractor, he was sourcing transmissions and front ends from India. I know he's also talked about how important it is to have the weight (batteries) low and in line with the rear axle (which is hard to do when there's a differential there)... so my question is, why the "regression" to a transmission?

What does Steve think of the "if you use more than a gallon of fuel in one stretch, with an electric tractor, you'd have to recharge or swap batteries" rule of thumb that reinventions McCoy (above) and John Howe have talked about?

Paul, since you talked about plowing snow and pulling people out of the ditch and such in the snow, it's only fair that you ask Steve to discuss lead-acid battery performance in sub-freezing weather.

I'd like to hear more about Steve's "hobby farm" tractor that he mentioned in the last podcast.

A friend and I are gathering parts to convert two tractors to electric - his 40hp Farmall and my 21hp Kubota L200 (the loudest tractor west of the Rockies!)... any tips, common mistakes to avoid, etc. that Steve would like to share would be greatly appreciated... my biggest concern is matching the most efficient RPMs of the electric drive motors to the existing tractor transmissions... I'm thinking we might need to gear the electric motors down about 1.5:1 or maybe even 2:1 to pull less amps...

If Steve's feeling really generous, I'd love to hear his source for $300 linear actuators that will lift 1,500lbs... unless he's talking about Northern Tool (cheap imported crap, even the reviews on their own site say their actuators are crap), I have yet to see an actuator that will lift that kind of weight for under $1,000...

Thanks for the opportunity to ask questions, Paul...

-Norm.
Norm Nelson


Joined: Dec 18, 2011
Posts: 7
Hi Kari,

Sorry for the delay in response.

I agree that we should have the discussion about electric tractors and global sustainability – and I too wonder how my son will feed himself in twenty years. However – the more I travel, the more I come to the realization that I can get quickly overcome by "the big picture"... I also can't help people that won't help themselves... and after my last trip, I'm currently of the mindset that I need concentrate on trying to save my little corner of the world (my small community and my nine acres), rather than trying to "save the world". If, somewhere along the journey, we come up with solutions that could help others, then I'm more than willing to share...

If we look back 100 years to the beginning of petroleum tractor usage (and the corresponding decline in draft animal usage), there were about 1.7 billion on the planet. Today there are over 7 billion people. My main question then is – could we possibly feed 7+ billion people using only draft animals for power? Is this a non-starter? Which leads to the next questions – how many draft animals would it take to grow food for 7+ billion people, and how much more arable land would we need just to feed these animals... do we have enough land for both, do we have enough people willing to work with all those animals, etc?

As for technology, I'm very much in the mindset of buying nothing new. I'm not interested in making new tractors. I'm interesting in converting old tractors (40 to 70 years old), using used parts, most of which exist in the waste stream. For instance, I visited an electric motor rebuilder the other day... he had bins of electric forklift motors in pallet racks, floor to 20' ceiling high... hundreds of them – all of them used, some of them rebuilt, many of them "out of date", meaning that the forklifts that they were made for are all old, and people don't really use those models anymore... so these motors are orphans, unless someone like myself comes along and has the crazy idea to put one in a car, tractor, etc. The same thing applies to the speed controllers, battery chargers, etc. This stuff exists in quantities already, there's no need to build or buy new ones anytime soon. I also have a number of PV modules... all of them used when I bought them – the oldest are 20 years old and still work great. The resource extraction for all these parts has already happened long ago. (but the batteries are a different story)

Yes, it takes more than an anvil and forge to rebuild these motors, controllers, PV modules, etc. but my point is – there is so much of this stuff – this technology – in existence already. The same thing goes for the lead you mention. Yes, 12 billion pounds sounds like an awful lot... until you realize that 12 billion pounds equals 6 million tons, and we humans already recycle 1 million tons and mine 4.4 million tons per year on earth... so the 12 billion pounds you mention is a little over 1 year's production to get batteries for all the hypothetical tractors needed to farm all the arable land in North America... and I assume that all those tractors wouldn't get built / converted in one year.

But you have a very valid point about the technology needed. Yes, I don't know how to build a speed controller, or the internal parts for it... but could I learn, and are there millions of those MOSFETs in existence already? Yes. I also don't know how to build a lead-acid battery. But could I learn how and do it if I really had to? Maybe. (The first PbA battery was made in 1859, I wonder how high-tech Monsier Planté's lab was?). But again, this is all hypothetical...

I agree that we should question whether regularly moving soil is a good thing. But if you start talking ponds, swales, hugelkulture piles, etc. I think I'll be looking for the electric tractor (or honestly, probably still climbing in my old diesel excavator) and get done in a couple of afternoons what would take me weeks to do with a couple of horses. Perhaps electric tractors aren't "the answer", but they're a step closer to steam, which is a step closer to once again using draft animals... but for those of us that aren't farming full time, I just don't see animals as a good fit... not yet.

-Norm.

P.S. I don't know if a 35hp tractor would pull that truck out of the mud, but if it could get traction, I think it could. Your average "5,000 lb" electric forklift actually weighs about 8,500 lbs and will pick up and move at speed another 5,000 lbs, so that's 13,500 lbs total and those forklifts have about 30hp electric motors in them, and move those weights all day on smooth ground, so maybe – just maybe – a tractor with the same motor and tractor gearing and big tires might be able to pull that 6,000 lb truck out of the mud... I'd like to see it!
Kari Gunnlaugsson
volunteer

Joined: Jun 22, 2011
Posts: 308
    
    8
@ Norm..the whole thing is really scary, isn't it? Without fossil energy for traction and fertilizer I think humanity has already overshot the planet's carrying capacity by billions. We could be in a lot of trouble. But you are right about focusing on your land and local community.

I use a 1955 35HP (at drawbar) gasoline tractor for heavy work when there is a seasonal time crunch. Sometimes it doesn't start for months. The past few days I've been running it hard. I spent 11 hours running it yesterday (i am converting cultivated land to permanent pasture and needed to get the seed bed prepared and sown before the rain). I was thinking while going back and forth that 35 HP is 746*35= 26,110 watts. Which means I blew off 287,210 watt hours just yesterday. On a tiny farm. So much farm work is like this, heavy long hours for brief periods seasonally. It really makes the battery issue challenging. It also puts PV out of reach on my scale, so essentially the electric tractor would be running on coal or nuclear or something...

I could have done it with horses but I would have needed two more horses and it would have taken me two days. I might have missed the rain, the project might have failed or been spread over a few years.

I don't know what we're going to do, but i think fossil fuel spent on swales, ponds and hugelculture beds is well spent, they will last you a long time and at least feed your kids.


Question for Steve..

Agricultural equipment is rated by horsepower at the drawbar, which is a measured rather than theoretical horsepower (P=Fv). Have you had the chance to get any of your tractors measured with a dynamometer? What sort of drawbar horsepower rating do you think is achievable with electric (without pushing constraints like weight and battery capacity to extremes)?
Yone' Ward


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 135
Location: Springdale, WA USA - Cold Mediterranean Climate
The biggest issue I would have with a lead acid battery tractor is the same issue I have with the lead acid battery powered cars people were promoting back in the 70's. Temperature reeks havoc on battery capacity. Lead acid batteries like 80F. Once you get down below freezing their capacity is only about 10%. An electric car that had a 30 mile range now has a three mile range. Likewise, your tractor is going to have a radically reduced work capacity in the cold. This can be a serious problem when your daily outside temps swing by 30 to 50 degrees as you loose a lot of work time fighting battery issues in an otherwise prime time for getting stuff done.

If you can defeat the temperature limitation though, I recommend making yourself some Edison batteries for your tractor. They can last upwards of a century even with some abuse. They are even more sensitive to temperature variations though and their energy density is about half that of lead acid batteries, but never needing to replace a battery is going to be a major advantage, especially if you can make your own batteries.


Just call me Uncle Rice.
17 years in a straw bale house.
Dave Bennett


Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
Yone' Ward wrote:The biggest issue I would have with a lead acid battery tractor is the same issue I have with the lead acid battery powered cars people were promoting back in the 70's. Temperature reeks havoc on battery capacity. Lead acid batteries like 80F. Once you get down below freezing their capacity is only about 10%.

That certainly is the truth and downside to mobile electric devices. Efficient storage is a problem yet to be solved.

I recommend making yourself some Edison batteries for your tractor. They can last upwards of a century even with some abuse. They are even more sensitive to temperature variations though and their energy density is about half that of lead acid batteries, but never needing to replace a battery is going to be a major advantage, especially if you can make your own batteries.


Thomas Edison picked up Jugner's nickel-iron battery design, patented it himself and sold it in 1903. It is more properly called the Jugner battery. Edison helped his employees develop the incandescent bulb and little else yet his name is bandied about as though he was some electrical wizard which is not even close to the truth.
Dave Bennett


Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
Norm Nelson wrote:Hi Kari,

If we look back 100 years to the beginning of petroleum tractor usage (and the corresponding decline in draft animal usage), there were about 1.7 billion on the planet. Today there are over 7 billion people. My main question then is – could we possibly feed 7+ billion people using only draft animals for power? Is this a non-starter? Which leads to the next questions – how many draft animals would it take to grow food for 7+ billion people, and how much more arable land would we need just to feed these animals... do we have enough land for both, do we have enough people willing to work with all those animals, etc?

As for feeding the current world population with thoughtful use of the land. It is possible and without the need for tractors, even electric versions.

http://thebovine.wordpress.com/2009/08/09/in-1999-35-million-small-family-plots-produced-90-of-russias-potatoes-77-of-vegetables-87-of-fruits-59-of-meat-49-of-milk-way-to-go-people/
Kari Gunnlaugsson
volunteer

Joined: Jun 22, 2011
Posts: 308
    
    8
Dave, thanks for that link, it's super inspiring!...i hope it circulates widely and maybe get's it's own thread rather than languishing as thread drift in the alternative energy section...

and yeah, edison was pretty good at ripping off other people's stuff...
Yone' Ward


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 135
Location: Springdale, WA USA - Cold Mediterranean Climate
Dave Bennett wrote:
Yone' Ward wrote:Edison batteries


Thomas Edison picked up Jugner's nickel-iron battery design, patented it himself and sold it in 1903. It is more properly called the Jugner battery. Edison helped his employees develop the incandescent bulb and little else yet his name is bandied about as though he was some electrical wizard which is not even close to the truth.

From what I've learned about Edison and his good buddy Ford, they were both obnoxious fellows. This is of limited relevance, though as they are all dead and a Google search for "Edison Battery" yields results.

It occurred to me that if you could wrap your batteries in removable insulating panels and mount a thermometer in the top of the battery, you should be able to finesse better cold weather performance out of your batteries. I'm thinking something like the cooking thermometers with the metal probe. You coat the metal probe with some epoxy and install it down in the top of the battery. Just an Idea.
Dave Bennett


Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
Yone' Ward wrote:
Dave Bennett wrote:
Yone' Ward wrote:Edison batteries


Thomas Edison picked up Jugner's nickel-iron battery design, patented it himself and sold it in 1903. It is more properly called the Jugner battery. Edison helped his employees develop the incandescent bulb and little else yet his name is bandied about as though he was some electrical wizard which is not even close to the truth.

From what I've learned about Edison and his good buddy Ford, they were both obnoxious fellows. This is of limited relevance, though as they are all dead and a Google search for "Edison Battery" yields results.

It occurred to me that if you could wrap your batteries in removable insulating panels and mount a thermometer in the top of the battery, you should be able to finesse better cold weather performance out of your batteries. I'm thinking something like the cooking thermometers with the metal probe. You coat the metal probe with some epoxy and install it down in the top of the battery. Just an Idea.

Personally I like the idea of using electric power for a vast assortment "stuff." I do understand that some people see such technology as improved efficiency for accomplishing certain tasks. All I see is it leading to more and bigger versions that will have the effect of maintaining the status quo of industrial scale earth raping. This "modern era" of technology has shown many of us that it is not sustainable. Rationalizing it's continued use by suggesting that old forklift parts be recycled and continued mining for Lead to make batteries is the very same mind set that got us to this point. I see no change in attitude. I see just a softening of the destruction of the environment. My forest farming philosophy has been developing since I was a youngster in the 50's before most of this corporate agricultural insanity got really rolling. I learned about micro-climate creation from my grandmother that grew varieties of fruits not suited to the temperate northeast. I learned forest farming techniques from a First Nations Shaman way back then too. What I see with electric tractors is taking a fossil fueled farm implement and transforming it into an electrically powered farm implement. The damage done by the machine itself is only lessened somewhat by the change in fuel. The issues of temperature control for batteries of electric cells has been a challenge for electrical engineers practically since their development. My design for temperature control involves Peltier Thermoelectric units. They can be used for heating and cooling depending upon the season. Still I prefer the use of draft animals. The link I posted earlier stands as testament to the reality that small scale family "farming" can produce more than enough food to sustain the current population. There is still a tipping point with population growth that must be addressed. I find it amazing that so many people don't understand simple math. Exponential growth on a finite planet is not sustainable.... not now.... not ever. Suggesting that tractors somehow improve production efficiency without damaging the environment just because of a fuel source change is a contradiction.
Yone' Ward


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 135
Location: Springdale, WA USA - Cold Mediterranean Climate
As near as I can figure, if I'm going to build a no plow, no till farm, then I'm going to need a front loader for a time until my farm matures out of the need for it, and I just don't see a way to run a front loader with a draft animal. That's why I'm sticking to a cheap gasoline tractor. I can focus my cash expenditures on stuff that eliminates or radically reduced my need for the tractor or draft animal with a better return on investment than spending money on solutions that didn't work so well last time they were popular.
Dave Bennett


Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
Yone' Ward wrote:As near as I can figure, if I'm going to build a no plow, no till farm, then I'm going to need a front loader for a time until my farm matures out of the need for it, and I just don't see a way to run a front loader with a draft animal. That's why I'm sticking to a cheap gasoline tractor. I can focus my cash expenditures on stuff that eliminates or radically reduced my need for the tractor or draft animal with a better return on investment than spending money on solutions that didn't work so well last time they were popular.

My plan is for two donkeys to guard my sheep and pull a wagon when I need to haul "stuff." As far as needing a front end loader, where I am planning on moving I won't need one and if I do need to do that much digging there are plenty of them around to hire. Some of it has to do with geography and topography. The rest I would guess is what someone intends to do with their property. The pieces of land I have been looking at won't need much earth moving and both of them already have ponds on them. If I can actually get either of them remains to be seen. One needs to be "reforested" the other just needs someone to care for what is already there.
 
 
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