Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Pulling into the Future with Solar Electric Tractors at Ecofarm

Source: Ecofarm Press Release

Many farmers agree that the time has come to power their operations with renewable energy. Long- time farm equipment innovator Steve Heckeroth shared his successes and plans with an eager audience at the 38th EcoFarm Conference, January 24 to 27, 2018, in Pacific Grove, California.

[Link to slides from Heckeroth's presentation is here.]

Solar electric tractors are a good idea for many reasons. Electric motors are very efficient. Their maintenance is simpler than for diesel or gasoline engines. An electric motor drive train requires no clutch or transmission, so there are two less mechanical components to malfunction, wear out, or require maintenance.

Electric vehicles are quiet. They start and stop with the flip of a switch. The tractors are powerful for their size – operating at very high torque at low RPMs, gaining traction easily on hills, and pulling heavy loads.

However, it has been difficult to get electric tractors into commercial production because oil, diesel and gasoline prices fluctuate wildly. When the price of oil is low, it’s hard for farmers to justify the cost of a new, unproved style of tractor. Because oil production is subsidized, its social and environmental costs are not factored into its price. When oil is cheap, farmers are less likely to trade in their petroleum-fueled tractors and equipment.

The first Earth Day in 1970 got architect Steve Heckeroth interested in finding the best ways to cut out fossil fuels. When he learned that transportation vehicles use four times more energy than housing, and that they cause ten times more air pollution, Heckeroth switched gears. He started building electric vehicles, and has been continually tinkering with and improving his designs.
Over the years he converted and built electric golf carts, VW vans, Karmann Ghias, a VW Rabbit, a Porsche Spyder, a RAV4, and others. And he has designed many prototypes and models of electric tractors for himself, for American manufacturers and agricultural colleges, and for companies in Holland, Japan, Brazil, and India.

In Northern California’s Mendocino County, where Heckeroth lives and works, many of his neighbors share his enthusiasm for reducing their use of fossil fuel. Most local farms are small and medium- sized, located away from the cool foggy coast, in zones where summer sunshine is abundant. Such farms can be ideal for tractors that recharge from a solar roof on a central barn.
This inventive builder has also patented thin-film photovoltaic “peel and stick” solar panels to power his tractors and other vehicles. In addition, he holds the patent for quick-change battery packs that make it easier to extend the tractors’ daily work hours.

Recently Steve Heckeroth’s Solectrac Company received a substantial research and development grant from the Small Business Administration’s Innovative Research Program, with the possibility of additional levels of follow-up funding. He comments that this grant “will finally allow me to take the tractor into commercial production.”

Heckeroth presented his ideas and designs at EcoFarm Conference on Thursday, January 25 at 10:30 a.m. The workshop was entitled “Electric Tractors and Equipment: The Age of Adaptive Agriculture.”

Contact for Steve Heckeroth, Solectrac
30151 Navarro Ridge Rd. Albion, CA 95410 707-456-9571

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