With the nation’s power grid struggling to meet demand, a discussion of sustainable energy sources and even energy farms sparked interest among the American and German participants.
The German-American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest recently coordinated a virtual sustainable energy for sustainable agriculture conference supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy.
“I am aware farming in Germany is different than farming in the U.S. and farming in east Germany versus west Germany is different. But the challenges are more or less the same,” said Professor Hans-Jurgen Pfisterer with the University of Applied Sciences Osnabruck. The professor of electrical drives noted farmers pay a variety of fixed costs and input expenses, including energy. “You have one kind of thing that makes money - the harvest. Farming is a risky business,” Pfisterer said.
One vision for the future is farm-generated electricity that is stored in batteries for farm use. “You would not have to pay for it,” he added. A wind farm can generate electricity and produce hydrogen that could be used for equipment. With little or no energy expenses, “a farmer could earn a traditional crop and earn (money) as an energy farmer,” Pfisterer said, adding he believed energy farming was possible in Germany, but didn’t know about the United States.
The German government is investing a lot of money into hydrogen research, which is a popular research subject among German researchers. Hydrogen energy can be stored unlike other forms of energy, Pfisterer added.
Twenty partners are involved with his university’s 10-year research into a hydrogen infrastructure for a farm. The project includes development of an agricultural hydrogen fuel cell, a hydrogen-combustion powered field chopper, hydrogen-powered irrigation system and a hydrogen-powered fodder mixing cart. Pfisterer acknowledged, “There is a lot of work to do” to create an agricultural hydrogen fuel cell.
On another front, Frank Steinert, Ph.D., of the Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure is studying sustainable energy sources and new powertrain configurations for agricultural machinery. His work is urgent given “the new emission regulations of combustion engines, politics and sustainability measures,” Steinert said.
Electric drivetrains have a high degree of controllability, high efficiency, are easy for power distribution and require lower maintenance. On the downside, those machines would be more expensive and typical repairmen would need training and new tools. Plus, the equipment would be encapsulated. “You can’t repair it with a hammer or a screwdriver,” Steinert said. A breakdown “might be a problem during harvest. It’s not a short fix.”
German researchers are considering a mix of energy sources for a single machine to make electrification beneficial, according to Steinert.
Steinert described HY2PE2R, a hydraulic hybrid for extended electrical range. The machine resembles a small truck with a crane on the back. The powertrain includes a combustion engine, hydraulic pumps and electric batteries. By applying specific energy sources to precise tasks, such as powering the crane or turning the wheels, the researchers hope to reduce fuel needs by 80%, Steinert reported.