Recent demands for sustainability and the reduction of carbon footprints have fueled the trend toward electric vehicles (EVs) for personal, public, recreational and industrial transportation. This trend has also taken hold for agricultural vehicles such as tractors, utility vehicles, loaders, combines, cultivators and sprayers. On one hand, electric agricultural vehicles offer several advantages, such as lower noise, which allows operation over longer hours; autonomous operation, which lowers labor costs; and lower operating costs through the elimination of the need to purchase fuel. On the other hand, the electrification of agricultural vehicles poses certain challenges. The Agrowheel Drive is an electric propulsion solution supplied by Pelonis Technologies, a worldwide innovator of motorized products for heating, cooling and motion control.

Challenges

The major challenges in implementing electric propulsion technology into agricultural vehicles concern power, volume, weight and utilization. Agricultural vehicles are typically loaded with equipment, tools or other materials, such as crops, fertilizer or insecticides, thereby limiting the available space and weight for electric propulsion systems and their batteries. Electric propulsion systems must therefore be lightweight and compact yet capable of supplying the necessary power to drive the vehicle over long distances and rough terrain. Since recharging of the batteries may result in long periods of downtime or lost productivity, the motors must operate efficiently, and the batteries must have a sufficiently high energy density.

Recent breakthroughs in electric motor technologies have enabled electric propulsion systems to attain power-to-weight ratios that approach those of gasoline- or diesel-powered systems at lower levels of electrical power consumption and net-zero greenhouse emissions. Battery technology has also progressed, allowing for greater power storage in more compact form factors, reducing weight and lengthening the time between re-charges. These advances combine to make electrical propulsion for agricultural vehicles a reality.

The Agrowheel drive system

To address the challenges of electrification of the agricultural industry, the Agrowheel Drive System has been developed as a fully electric actuator solution for demanding agricultural automation applications (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Pelonis Agrowheel Drive system. Source: PelonisFigure 1. Pelonis Agrowheel Drive system. Source: Pelonis

The Agrowheel Drive system features a fully electric wheel drive that delivers up to 1 kW power with an integrated gearbox, motor brake and position sensor. This system is capable of outputting a high peak torque (up to 200 Nm) and a high rated speed (up to 120 RPM). Its compact design (191 mm length x 147 mm diameter) coupled with its unique integration of drive and control electronics enables the Agrowheel Drive system to be used in a wide variety of agricultural vehicles and applications. Furthermore, the system has a completely sealed gearbox and a high IP rating that enables trouble-free operation in harsh agricultural environments with a lifetime exceeding 15,000 operating hours.

Pelonis Technologies

Pelonis Technologies is a worldwide provider of motorized products for heating, cooling and motion control for several industries. The company is based in Exton, Pennsylvania, and has over 25 years of product development and manufacturing experience. More information about the Agrowheel Drive system and how Pelonis Technologies can assist with its implementation can be found on their website.