Good Fruit Grower

April 1

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I n the early 1960s, an agricultural engineer at Michi- gan State University fascinated students as he drove about campus virtually soundlessly in an electric Volkswagen. He'd taken out the original 36-horsepower gaso- line engine and gas tank, put in an electric motor, and filled up the back-seat compartment with several hun- dred pounds of lead acid batteries. Arthur W. Farrall was head of the MSU ag engineering department whose building now carries his name. It took 50 more years before electric cars could be seen more than occasionally on the streets, and the chief rea- son it's finally happening is improvement in batteries. But it's been a long struggle for electric vehicles to make a comeback against those powered by the internal com- bustion engine, which beat out electric vehicles more than a century ago. So, when will electric vehicles come to orchards? Today, we do see more electric- powered equipment moving into orchard operations, but mostly for smaller tools. Battery packs power several lines of orchard and vineyard pruning equipment. Orchard Master, Felco, Infaco, Pellenc, Campagnola, and Coima offer pruners powered by lithium ion batteries. Orchard Master says its pruners will charge in three to four hours and operate for a workday of six to eight hours on one charge. A handheld blossom thinner, invented by Paul Miller in Michigan and called The Cinch, runs off a portable battery- powered electric drill. We've seen the explosion in hand tools—drills and saws—that have come along with smaller, more power- ful batteries with greater electric storage capacity. John Deere makes all-electric utility vehicles, like golf carts for farmers, that it claims will run all day on a single charge and haul up to 500 pounds as effectively as its gas engine models. Trout Creek Orchard in Park- dale, Oregon, recently announced it had purchased its first all-electric vehicle and plans to buy more and install solar power to charge them. Gaining in Europe In Europe, the Italian company Windegger Maschinen BmbH has offered electrically powered elevating plat- forms for several years. The company claims to have sold about 1,000 units to Italian apple, pear, and cherry grow- ers and is now marketing the machines across Europe. The company did not respond to Good Fruit Grow- er's e-mail requests for more information, but its website has brochures showing the K8e Alpin platform working on mountain slopes of 30 degrees. The platform, which is powered by 48-volt tubular batteries, is designed for orchard pruning, training, and harvesting. Another Italian company, Alkè, is selling a line of elec- tric vehicles for farm and orchard use. Growing interest At Phil Brown Welding in Conklin, Michigan, owner and machine designer Phil Brown said that nobody in the United States has yet ventured far down the road, but there is growing interest in electric power for orchard machines. "We're getting more calls about it," Brown said. "Especially near residential areas, growers are looking for machines that are quieter and emit less pollution." For machines operating in confined spaces, like fork- lifts in storages, electricity offers a fume-free option that is safer for people and produce. "When electric power comes to orchard equipment, it will come through the automobile industry," Brown said. "They've spent billions to develop electric car technology." In fact, on February 26, Tesla Motors announced plans to invest $2 billion—and to gather partners to invest $3 billion more—in a large factory in the southwestern United States to produce batteries for electric cars within the next three years. According to the New York Times, the goal is to further develop batteries and cut their cost. While Tesla has been a driving force behind electric cars and manufactures a highly regarded $70,000 sedan, other manufacturers—General Motors, Ford, Nissan— are also producing electric cars. The battery hurdle "Batteries are still the biggest hurdle," said Valerie Karplus, a research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, responding to questions from Good Fruit Grower. "Motors and controls are well advanced and ready for prime time." But batteries have come a long way. Lead acid batter- ies will generate power of about 40 watt hours per kilo- gram of weight. A lithion ion battery will do three times that amount. And some new ideas in lithium batteries— lithium air and lithium sulfur are now being researched— could raise that by a factor of 10 to 15. 36 APRIL 1, 2014 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Orchard Equipment • Impressive coverage with a CHINOOK Blade • Protect Over 15 Acres • Powerful V10 Engine with or without catalytic converter Toll Free: 855-855-0318 • We've got you COVERED! Introducing our newest dealer: Windworx, LLC Wind Machine Sales and Service ELECTRIC orchard equipment Orchardists are showing interest in electric power, and it's coming, slowly. by Richard Lehnert

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