Luca Remmert's dream of running a self-sustainable farm is within sight. He produces energy from corn and grain near the northern Italian city of Turin and hopes in the not too distant future to run all of his eight tractors on methane generated at the farm. Remmert's 1,100-acre La Bellotta farm has been testing a second-generation prototype of what will be the first tractor to run on methane, the T6 by New Holland Agriculture. Methane would be 30% cheaper than diesel. And for farms that produce their own bio-methane—a type of gas that is produced by the processing of organic waste—the costs of fuel would drop to nothing. The technology will likely be attractive to farmers in many developed economies, particularly those that are turning to the production of biofuel due to a squeeze on profits on food products.
The methane-run T6 will hit production in about five years, according to New Holland. The prototype produces 80% less pollution than a standard diesel tractor and will help meet future EU greenhouse gas targets. But for a farm to get the most savings out of it, it would have to be able to produce bio-methane, which has significant up-front equipment costs. In addition, the drive toward biofuels is being slowed by the sharp drop in fossil fuel costs over the last year, as well as environmental concerns about the transformation of farmland into energy production. Remmert says the biogas his farm produces runs an engine that supplies enough electricity to power 10,000 homes a year. The by-product of the fermentation to produce the biogas is used to fertilize the fields, saving him $335,000 a year in chemical fertilizers, while the carbon emissions saved from fossil fuels amount to 4,000 tons a year. (Read more methane stories.)