AFTER nearly 10 years of prototype testing Belarus is ready to launch a diesel-electric power train for its tractors.
It was in 2009 at the German Agritechnica Show that Belarus unveiled a 3023 prototype – a tractor with a 220 kilowatt (164 horsepower) diesel engine, a 172kW (230hp) generator, a diesel-electric drive train and an electrically-driven front PTO.
And although the use of diesel-electric power trains was not a new concept – they have been used for decades in trains and mining vehicles – the Belarus concept was a world first for agriculture.
The 3023 is still a major project for Belarus.
The tractor is powered by a Stage 3/Tier 3-compliant Deutz engine, making it only available in less-emissionised countries such as Australia.
For places such as Europe or North America, Belarus is looking into various engine options, which will meet emissions standards.
These include Caterpillar, which it already uses in its high horsepower tractors and options from Mercedes and Cummins.
On average, the manufacturer said its electric transmission offered up to 15 per cent fuel savings during cultivation operations and up to 30pc for transport applications.
Surprisingly, the biggest drive for the manufacturer to develop such a transmission was reliability – it’s claimed to have a maintenance-free life span of at least 30,000 hours.
Industry talk says Belarus will have an electric transmission available for its 224kW (300hp) and 261kW (350hp) models, the 3023 and 3623 respectively.
Essentially the powershift gearbox in each model has been replaced with an electric generator and a brushless motor.
The tractor’s engine is mated to the electric generator which then powers an electric motor to drive the tractor’s transaxle.
Apart from two gears offering high and low ranges (0 to 20 kilometres an hour and 0 to 50km/h), everything else remains the same, including the final drives and hydraulics.
Like a hydro-mechanical continuously variable transmission (CVT), this stepless system affords the operator seamless control over travel speeds, using a lever or a pedal.
It has been reported the option to use individual wheel motors was considered, but deemed too costly to produce, with question marks over reliability.
Belarus plans to introduce a full line of electric drive tractors from 112kW (150hp) upwards.
Generators and motors used are said to be industry standard units, made by a Russian company.
Just like a conventional CVT, the electric-driven tractor operates in exactly the same way, with the engine producing just enough power and rpm to satisfy the demands of the transmission, based on the control input from the operator.
Belarus said by using electric drive, both start-up and working torque of the final drive was increased and the transmission is claimed to offer more than 87 per cent power transfer across a greater range of forward speeds compared to a hydro-mechanical CVT.
This effectively gives the 3023 the same pulling power as a 313kW (420hp)-equivalent powershift model.
As well as impressive power application, the transmission has also been designed to provide electrical resistance when slowing down, giving up to 20pc extra braking capacity.
In addition, controls on the rear mudguards allow you to move the tractor forwards and backwards.
It also features a “hill-hold” function.
To enable trouble shooting, should any occur, the manufacturer is also providing self-diagnostics software.
This allows all critical parameters to be monitored and checked including temperature, current and voltage, along with the ability to diagnose any problems.
An initial option for the tractor will be a stationary invertor, which will allow the tractor to be used as a generator.
Offering a 230 volt, three phase, 270kW (201hp), AC output, Belarus said the invertor could be used as power back-up on the farm, or be used to power stationary equipment such as augers and elevators.
Building on this idea, an invertor could also be mounted on the tractor which would allow power to be supplied to implements, such as large fans on air seeders.
In addition, the wheels of a trailed implement could also be powered, giving extra traction and less soil damage.
Other elements of the tractor could also be electrically-driven in the future such as PTOs, compressors and hydraulic pumps.
And you might not need a starter motor.
Just use an inverted current in the generator to start the tractor.
It is envisaged that in the future, the engine could be swapped for a battery, or a combination of a smaller engine and battery.
It’s a sure bet other tractor manufacturers already are well down the track with this technology.
It’s just a matter of who will be the first ‘bright spark’ to follow the Belarus lead.