The Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University (SU) has partnered with the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in Germany to develop an electric tractor (e-tractor).
The GlobalDrive Project aims to develop a standalone solar charging system with inverters and batteries attached to the tractor to ensure an off-grid agricultural solution. The project, which is funded by the Department of Science and Innovation through SANEDI and the European Union (EU), kicked off in May this year and forms part of a bigger project called SolChargE. Prof Thinus Booysen, who holds the research chair in the Internet of Things, heads up the team.
Jacques Wust, a master’s student in Electronic Engineering who is part of the team, says eight TUM students visited Stellenbosch in May, where the students and their supervisors collaborated on ideas for an electric tractor. “Every student had a part to play in the pipeline that culminated not only in a fully functioning electric tractor prototype but also in important analyses of the feasibility of and challenges surrounding such a tractor,” he says.
Recently, the SU team visited Germany, where they presented their findings. “The electric tractor prototype was built from the ground up in Germany, with us helping with the final touches during our visit there. While the German team focused on the electric tractor itself, we conducted an in-depth analysis of potential solar powered charging systems that can be used on a farm to supplement the electric tractor,” says Jacques.
The team used real-world GPS tracking data of tractors on a farm in the Western Cape, as well as the solar irradiance data for that area for their simulations. Jacques adds: “Eventually, we arrived at a cost analysis of different sizings of a solar system. Our findings concluded that only in some cases is it cheaper to use a solar system in conjunction with charging from Eskom, but it can dramatically reduce carbon emissions. We firmly believe electric tractors are the future,” he says.
The tractor will be aimed at subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and the current expectations for the unit are to utilise a 50-kWh battery for a range of 80 km before recharging is required.
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