Farming is one of the world’s most critical industries, but it’s far from sustainable. U.S. agriculture emitted 698 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses in 2018, accounting for 10.5% of all carbon emissions in the nation.
As the population grows and climate change worsens, farmers must find ways to feed more people with fewer resources. Hydrogen fuel could play a critical role in that transition to greener agriculture. With enough adoption of fuel cell technologies, hydrogen could reshape the future of farming.
Fuel Cell-Powered Vehicles
The most straightforward use case for hydrogen fuel in agriculture is in farming vehicles like tractors. Today, most agricultural vehicles run on diesel, but some companies have started to abandon this fossil fuel in favor of hydrogen.
New Holland Agriculture has released a hybrid tractor that can run on a mix of diesel and hydrogen. This middle ground between fossil fuels and renewables can help farmers wean off of diesel technology, moving towards emissions-free vehicles with minimal disruption. As solutions like this gain traction, the industry could slowly move towards entirely hydrogen-powered tractors.
Long-haul trucks that ship agricultural goods have also seen rising fuel cell adoption. Fuel cell trucks could travel 500 miles without refueling, making them an ideal replacement for today’s diesel alternatives.
Hydrogen Generators for Farming Equipment
Vehicles aren’t the only source of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, either. Farms have extensive energy needs, such as maintaining barn temperatures between 25 and 70 degrees for cow comfort. Hydrogen-powered generators could provide power for these applications without relying on fossil fuels.
In some areas, agriculture is moving towards indoor vertical gardens to become more sustainable. These gardens often rely on artificial UV light to grow plants, raising energy consumption. Running these lights on hydrogen generators instead of plugging into the electrical grid would maximize vertical farmings’ sustainability.
Fuel cell-powered generators have already seen applications in energy-intensive areas like construction sites. Applying similar technologies to traditional and urban agriculture is an easy way to make farming more sustainable.
On-Farm Hydrogen Production
The primary downside to hydrogen fuel is that it often relies on fossil fuels to separate hydrogen from other elements. Agriculture is in a unique position to solve this problem in its own fuel cell applications. Since farms are typically in open, sunny areas, they’re ideal locations for solar or wind power infrastructure, which could generate green hydrogen.
Several research projects are investigating on-farm hydrogen production to capitalize on this opportunity. In one example, farms could potentially generate hydrogen from the nitrogen and carbon compounds in manure. Innovations like this could create a circular energy economy, reducing agricultural costs and emissions simultaneously.
Hydrogen Fuel Can Help Make Farming Sustainable
The world will always need agriculture, but the sector must change to aid the fight against climate change. Transitioning to green energy is a crucial step in that process, and hydrogen fuel presents the optimal form of green power for these applications.
Hydrogen fuel cell alternatives to farm vehicles and generators have already emerged, and on-farm hydrogen production holds promise. As these technologies advance and become more accessible, they could move agriculture away from fossil fuels. The world could then feed its population without sacrificing the environment.
Jane writes on green technology and renewable energy topics and works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co.