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Coleg Glynllifon at the forefront of agricultural research

Tractors at Coleg Glynllifon were retrofitted with a hydrogen electrolyser to explore ways of finding a greener fuel for the future

Coleg Glynllifon is playing its part in finding the fuel of the future following a trial of hydrogen power in tractors.

The trial involved using a hydrogen electrolyser to power old tractors, to assess whether this could reduce red diesel use and cut down emissions.

Hydrogen is one of the most promising alternative fuels in a carbon-neutral future. However, it can leak out of ordinary metal storage containers, posing a problem in terms of using it as an alternative to red diesel on farms.

An electrolyser is a system that uses electricity to break water down into hydrogen and oxygen. It comes in a box about the size of a small suitcase and is a relatively cheap option.

Retrofitting an old tractor with an electrolyser means the vehicle can run on a combination of diesel and hydrogen.

Therefore, the aim of the Glynllifon trial was to assess whether an electrolyser could be used to power tractors with a greener fuel, while getting around the problem of hydrogen storage.

Two of the farm’s tractors undertook the test, with data collected over a period of time prior to fitting the hydrogen electrolyser and then after.

However, the trials had unexpected results, with the electrolyser having limited impact on the tractors’ fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.

This indicated that there are still challenges to overcome if hydrogen is to be used as an alternative to diesel - namely, the question of how to safely store the hydrogen as a gas on farms, and how to obtain a regular supply of hydrogen fuel at a competitive price compared to white and red diesel.

As hydrogen currently accounts for just 5% of the world’s energy supply, and 95% of that is produced from fossil fuels or natural gas causing vast carbon emissions, procuring a regular supply of green hydrogen gas from renewable energy sources is currently difficult and expensive.

Gerwyn Williams, Land-based Programme Manager for Coleg Glynllifon, said: "The trials at Glynllifon have proven to be valuable as they show that possibly other sources of fuel are more favourable - for example biomethane, hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) or biodiesel - as diesel replacements for old tractors.

“This is because they can be used with existing machinery with minimal modification to engines and their availability is steadily improving.”

The trial, which began in July 2021, was a partnership between Farming Connect and Coleg Glynllifon, funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

Glynllifon is a land-based campus with residential facilities, situated on the Glynllifon Estate near Caernarfon. The Glynllifon farm, including the woodland, extends to 300 hectares, and is a great environment for studying countryside management and agricultural studies. For more information about the range of courses available, click here.