The electrification of European agriculture has begun in multiple applications. It is a process that will not be stopped, one that offers major opportunities.
Growing awareness of environmental issues, increasingly strict anti-pollution laws, and the constant progress of modern technology are all bringing us towards the fast evolution of electric propulsion in the agricultural sector. This technological transition is being felt across Europe, and leads to the undeniable necessity of switching to electric mobility.
Electric agricultural machinery: electrification as a core need of the Industrial Revolution 4.0
The agricultural market is currently undergoing major technological changes, leading to demand for new equipment and features that can adapt to the changing times. Additionally, concerns over environmental problems appear to be a key concept spurring European agricultural vehicles towards a conversion to electric power. Long-term public policy aimed at improving air quality and reducing harmful emissions also lead to the creation of very strict regulations on the emission of pollutants.
These are the main considerations urging the manufacturers of agricultural machinery, like tractors and operators, to electrify their vehicles: being more environmentally friendly, the lack of maintenence needs and reduced management costs are essential features of today’s agricultural vehicles, as are sustainability and efficiency – nowadays two cornerstones of the Industrial Revolution 4.0.
Marco Righi – CEO and Founder Flash Battery
“Today, the agricultural machinery industry is investing huge amounts of resources into electrification. Just think of the evolution in terms of the skills that research and development teams need to deal with: first they were used to internal combustion engines and hydraulic equipment, now they need to work with batteries, inverters, electric motors, CAN-bus systems, etc. I still remember how, in a seminar focused on the technological evolution demanded of AgriTech products, there was a real need for knowledge and clarity about the electronics world and, especially, on batteries“.
Italy was supposed to host the Salone Internazionale EIMA, an international expo for agricultural machinery, in Bologna at the beginning of November 2020. The expo is a point of reference for the agricultural sector all across Europe, with Italy as the sector’s leader and organiser.
It is clear that the Italian electronics industry today considers the agricultural sector an extremely attractive market: not only the large manufacturers but also small and mid-size companies are moving towards zero emissions, converting multiple products from their lines into full-electric or hybrid vehicles, to generate energy without the use of polluting fossil fuels.
The trend is an upward one all over Europe – data from our French partner Efa France show it as well, emphasising how industrial electrification has the upper hand in the agricultural sectors, in particular self-driving vehicles and machinery for medium-intensity use. Soon these will dominate the market, and increasing numbers of agricultural workers will adopt robotic technologies to be more flexible and efficient in their daily activities.
Electric agricultural machinery: first applications in the fields of animal husbandry, viticulture, and maintenance of urban green spaces
In the first two quarters of 2020 we noticed a significant increase in demand from numerous European players in France and the Netherlands, and we have anticipated several fields of application in which the need for electrification of agricultural vehicles is becoming a more pressing one.
Full-electric straddle tractors
Viticulture is certainly one of the main agricultural sectors. It has been enjoying strong growth, and over the past few years there has been an ongoing search for improved quality, simplified work processes, and greater precision. The result is the abandoning of manual labour and a trend towards more avant-garde solutions.
Among them are Full-Electric straddle tractors. Today they are used in vineyards for soil tilling, cutting, clipping, phytosanitary treatments, etc. Thanks to electric power, this type of agricultural vehicle achieves the same levels of performance as an internal-combustion tractor, but at the same time offers all the advantages of electric vehicles: elimination of maintenance and its relative costs, elimination of emissions of CO2, harmful gas and fine particulates, and less noise.
Electric Feed Mixers
The livestock sector is also growing strongly, especially in terms of feed mixers used on farms to mix animal feed. Today’s market demands ever increasing attention to high-quality nutrition, so choosing the right mixture is essential for any farmer.
The primary aim of the mixers is to constantly provide a homogeneous blend, varying depending on the type of feed used, and so there are various types of feed mixers on the market to handle diverse needs. Most of these applications, therefore, require customised mechanics and call for high-voltage battery packs.
Electric machinery for maintenance of urban green spaces
Finally, another niche that sees electrification as a necessary step forward is the maintenance of urban green spaces, in particular in the area of wood-chipper machinery. These wood-chipping industrial machines are increasingly the choice of multiple municipalities, who appreciate the benefits of lithium batteries in terms of zero emissions and zero noise. Using these machines at any time of day becomes easy, reducing noise pollution and the resulting disturbance of people’s daily lives. The use of lithium-ion batteries also makes these machines lightweight, practical, compact, and easy to use.
Sustainability, autonomy and customisation: these are 3 key aspects of the transition to electrification of agricultural vehicles
The need to electrify the agricultural market comes not only from the evolution of technology, but most of all from a change in entrepreneurial vision.
1. Electric agriculture to support environmental sustainability
There is increasing attention being paid to environmental sustainability, and thus the most responsible companies in the agriculture market are investing in that direction. Electrification is seen as a practical option. Using less fossil fuels in favour of lithium batteries and reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases are necessary steps for sustainable progress in respecting the environment (food safety, no irregular chemical residues on produce, etc.)
2. The autonomy needed for electric agricultural machinery
Another issue not to be overlooked is energy consumption. The agricultural sector is by nature a very energy-hungry field; therefore, when choosing an electric piece of machinery, a key issue is being able to give enough power and autonomy to the vehicle: without a doubt, lithium-ion batteries have allowed us to overcome limits that previously held back development.
3. Fully custom lithium batteries
After years of working in this direction, we can definitively say that it is possible to create battery packs that are fully customised in terms of shape, size and technical specifications, which has been an enormous help to the agricultural sector as it moves towards electrification. This because we do not stop at simply supplying batteries – rather, we build a synergy with our clients, becoming genuine partners and developing the whole project collaboratively, bringing our expertise to bear on their specific needs.
Each individual project is analysed starting from the requirements in terms of power, autonomy and the space available for the lithium battery, and managed in complete cooperation with the client, from the design phase to delivery.
The electrification of agricultural vehicles has thus passed from being a conscious choice to a genuine necessity, that improves performance and keeps pace with the times. Benoît Beaumont, CEO of Efa France, our partner on the French market, agrees with our assessment:
Benoît Beaumont- CEO Efa France
“Today,” says Benoît, “the European agricultural market is fragmented into many small companies, and there is strong market demand for local products of ever-higher quality. The combination of these two factors has led to growing interest in new electric vehicles on the part of manufacturers of agricultural machinery. Lithium-ion batteries, like power-train systems focused on electric power, have taken enormous leaps forward in recent years and have made it possible to use electricity in widely diverse applications. Electrification is no longer a choice – it is our duty!”