ROCK SPRINGS, Pa. — The future looks rosy for a blue tractor that’s pulled away from the diesel fuel pump in favor of a new and experimental fuel: vegetable oil.
The special tractor is just one of a few east of the Mississippi to run on oil, according to Paul Trella, a New Holland marketing specialist. New Holland is currently running two tractors and a wheel loader on the fuel, he said.
The tractor was just placed into farm service in May and has only about 150 hours on it, but all indications so far say it’s going to work.
There has been a 5 percent reduction in horsepower at peak load, but Trella said that’s to be expected since oil has a lower energy content when compared with diesel. Trella also said researchers are studying fuel economy in a more controlled environment.
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The researchers plan to run the tractor about two years, or roughly 2,000 hours, then pull the engine, tear it apart, and see if vegetable oil’s potential is real.
Trella said technicians will scrutinize the tractor’s fuel injection and delivery system, where they anticipate seeing the first signs of a thumbs up for the new alternative fuel.
“We’re going to get some good hours on it and then take a look at it and see.”
Penn State has been working with New Holland for about three years on this experiment and another like it, according to Trella.
Their first project together was running pure biodiesel, or B100, in the blue tractors “as a way to prove to ourselves it was a good fuel and wouldn’t harm the tractor,” Trella said.
Last year, after 30,000 tractor hours of test work around the globe, New Holland gave the green light on biodiesel and is now able to extend warranty protection on new tractors fueled with biodiesel, he said.
After they proved that fuel, they looked ahead to see what was coming next. It turned out to be vegetable oil.
Trella said the idea of running a tractor on an alternative fuel is exciting, not only from a research standpoint, but also from one that’s showing Americans new ways to cut use of traditional and increasingly expensive fuels.
Ag Progress Days visitors were thrilled with the idea, according to Trella.
“The biggest single comment that I hear is ‘Anything I can do to lower my fuel cost is going to be a plus, because every time that fuel truck pulls up, I cringe.'”
Not so different
The first time researchers fueled the tractor, they did so with food-grade frying oil compliments of the university’s food service.
And since the university is also looking at the future of mechanical on-farm presses, researchers there have plans to make the vegetable oil needed to power the tractor right on the Penn State campus.
Even in the early stages, the tractor is standing for something more than a fuel-based research project.
“You think about it as a whole new business model evolving,” Trella said.
“As a grower, either by myself or maybe three or four of us get together and invest in a press that runs 24 hours a day. We grow the crops to press. We feed off the byproduct to livestock, and we have the oil left that goes back into our engines to run our equipment to grow more crops.
“You become more self-sufficient instead of waiting for the fuel delivery truck to show up once a month,” Trella said.
“I don’t know where it’s going to end up, but it will certainly be different than it is today in terms of how we fuel equipment. It eventually may change how we grow our food crops,” Trella said.