Solid biofuel powered tractors being developed

3 June 2022
A prototype tractor which can run on solid biofuel is being developed for the primary industries by AgLoco®, a start-up company based in Christchurch, New Zealand.AgLoco® is developing advanced steam engines which burn woodchips (dry or wet) to replace diesel tractors on farms and diesel trucks for hauling heavy loads.

The company is currently building its first fully functional 150hp tractor, having already built and tested a 400hp boiler as a proof of concept in 2021. Their tractor, the AgLoco® 150, is purpose built for energy intensive jobs such as cultivation, harvesting and haulage, which are currently only possible with the use of diesel engines.

The AgLoco® team expect to complete their prototype tractor by November 2022 and it will be put through extensive testing. The AgLoco® 150 will provide producers with a practical and resilient Zero Carbon tractor option and a great opportunity to begin taking the diesel out of primary production in New Zealand and the world.

Chief mechanical engineer and AgLoco® cofounder Sam Mackwell leads both the design and build of the new machine and is optimistic about the progress to date. “Testing of the new boiler technology has delivered exciting results. We are focused on thechallenging task of combining our new boiler technology with a drivetrain and chassis for the first time, then hooking it up to a cultivator to show farmers what it can do.”

Significant technological advances in modern steam engines utilised in the AgLoco® 150 include a threefold increase in efficiency, a safe low volume boiler design which has no risk of explosion and the incorporation of a complete combustion firebox which completely eliminates smoke emissions.

The AgLoco® 150 will match the power to weight ratio of a conventional tractor, heat up to full pressure in under ten minutes and run for 4 hours at an average 48% load capacity.Completing a full day’s work is no issue as the AgLoco® 150 takes less than 10 minutes to refuel from empty.

Torque is also impressive, boasting 7920NM, nearly 10x that of an equivalent diesel.Sam has incorporated a patent pending technology which eliminates all wood sparks to prevent fire risk into the design, a risk Sam identified for operating in arid regions. “We realised right away that one of the reasons we don’t see steam tractors in use today is because they had a tendency to start fires. That’s why we developed the new spark free boiler.”

Being Zero Carbon, energy dense and transportable, solid biofuels are particularly well suited for use in heavy load applications such as log hauling and cultivating. “Although steam locomotives are most commonly associated with a bygone era, to rule them out forfuture use would be a mistake” says Sam.

“Globally, a number of dedicated engineers have continued developing steam technology ever since it fell out of favour. We are standing on their shoulders. The results that they achieved during the past 70 years gives us a great deal of confidence in AgLoco’s ability to meet our performance estimates and take the diesel out of production.”