Redefining Sustainable Farming with Electric Tractors

October 25, 2022

Episode Summary

Join Point B host Steve Schwinke and his guest Mani Iyer, CEO of Solectrac, for a discussion on the role of electric tractors in the future of agriculture. Learn converting to EVs will not only save the industry money, but produce more affordable, sustainable, and healthier food for everyone.

Meet Our Guests

Mani Iyer
Mani Iyer

Mani Iyer, CEO of Solectrac, is a 28-year veteran of the agricultural and construction industries. He has extensive knowledge in the tractor space and has served in a wide variety of leadership positions in North America, South America, and Asia. He is the former President of LuiGong North America and spent over 9 years as President and CEO of Mahindra Americas. Iyer's expertise includes business strategy and development, international equipment sales and marketing, channel development, supply chain management, product support and service, manufacturing, and quality assurance.


- [Announcer] Welcome back to another episode of Point B a Sibros podcast where we interview industry experts about the latest innovations and trends in automotive technology and the connected vehicle industry. Tune in to learn about topics ranging from the next generation of electric vehicles to advances in connectivity and micro-mobility.

- Welcome to our Point B podcast where we discuss the future of mobility and transportation products and services. I'm your host, Steve Schwinke. And joining me today is Mani Iyer, the CEO of Solectrac whose mission is to lead the transition to zero emissions regenerative agriculture and utility operations with the best-in-class technology for a safer, cleaner and healthier future. Mani is a 28-year veteran of agriculture and construction industries and he's served in a wide variety of leadership roles in North America, South America and Asia. Also part of that is where he was president of LiuGong North America and over nine years as president and CEO of Mahendras Americas. Mani, welcome to the Point B podcast.

- Thank you very much for the opportunity, Steve. After a good quarter end both for Ideanomics and Solentrac I think this is going to be a good day.

- So let's just start with the basic question why electric tractors?

- Well it's been, and as you likely said I've been a veteran in the tractor industry mostly on the diesel side. We hear a lot about climate change. I think the evidence of climate change is very compelling. So when this opportunity came up it was a wonderful transition to what the whole world is talking about. And we would like to participate in respecting the environment and also work on any and all kinds of sustainability objectives.

- That's great. So, in addition to obviously sustainability by building an electric future for the farming equipment there's also some big benefits associated with using electric tractors. One is fuel cost savings is that right?

- Absolutely, and agriculture in my opinion contributes to over 10%, if I'm not mistaken it's 11% of the greenhouse gas emissions. So it's important for us to recognize along with the automotive side, the off-road products which is agriculture and tractors. Now electric tractors can do anything and everything what it is a tractor does, much, much better. It can use the same three-point hitch implements but it's got full torque at zero RPM. It never idles, there is no smoke, there is no pollution vibrations are far lower. So it's increased health and working environment for the operators. And, as you likely said lowest cost of maintenance and operations. The energy costs are less than one tenth the diesel price. And the diesel price is increasing for the many months now.

- So Mani, those are a lot of good benefits. The one thing you didn't mention is no noise, too.

- Oh no, absolutely. And today is a good day. You don't hear the landscape folks making all kinds of noise outside. Anytime you'd like to have a relaxed afternoon you hear all kinds of noise when they do things outside. Our tractors run at around 65 decibels. The diesel tractor runs at around 95 to 105. So you and I can talk while the tractor is running next to me. When it comes to agricultural or rural lifestyle you've got to enjoy the environment, right? You want to hear the birds chirping you want to hear the nature. That's perfect for these tractors. Any and all kinds of animals whether you have a pet animal, dogs, equestrians it's wonderful to have a tractor of this kind.

- That really is amazing. It just gives me chills thinking about, it's not just cars it's not just buses, but it's also farming equipment that can go electric with all these other advantages.

- If you look at a diesel engine, combustion it still takes 62% of the energy out. Then you have a mechanical powertrain. Efficiency you lose around 18%. So you've already lost 80%. Yeah? And then 10% on idling. So you only get 10% of work done when it comes to a diesel tractor. Therefore you have to use it a lot you have to rave the tractor for more torque and horsepower. All that kind you have to do on the diesel. If you switch over to electric, you get 94% efficiency. You barely use 6% on the powertrain if you make it efficient. And then you get 15% on regen. So the motor becomes a generator to charge the battery and give you more run time. Yeah? So all this is within the product. Now imagine you take the inefficiency out of the powertrain the power takeoff, to then implement and make it electric. You're talking about significant productivity.

- Wow, that's exciting. And, you know, I think about battery weight has always been a big issue. Especially for the freight liners that are looking at going to an electric type of solution. But for you, battery weight is not necessarily a bad thing, is it?

- Absolutely not. Battery weight is an asset for a tractor because you need more weight for traction. If you see any diesel tractor, Steve, you will see there is a front-end weight and then they'll put water and tires. They'll put a real weight to just make the tractor heavy for traction. Our battery weight in the front and we're also working on an extensional battery pack in place of weights in the front. You can put the same extensional battery pack on the three-point hitch. So in terms of weight, I think this is an added advantage.

- Interesting. There seems to be so many advantages of going electric in the tractor industry. I can't believe that there's not more companies out there that are paving the way like yourselves. I think I heard that there was maybe one possible drawback associated with this. So how are you thinking about keeping that uptime? It sounds like maybe just replaceable battery backs and charge one while the other one is being used?

- If you look at tractors even when rural lifestyles or hobby farmers they run the tractor for three to six hours in a day. Now if you need to run more in a commercial area where it's hen livestock or dairy farming or poultry farming you could probably have an extensional battery pack and extra run time. But for a normal battery pack you have got a good amount of run time, 3 to 6 hours. If you run a loader with a tractor it would probably run the whole day. Because you barely use the battery pack. It depends on what load you put. The more you probably take the implement out of the ground or you're doing extra PTO work, power take off work it'll probably suck the battery down and give you a reduced time. But in my opinion, 3 to 6 hours with an extensional battery pack to extend the run time is far more what's needed today.

- So Mani, it sounds like Solectrac is really addressing a big market need and also helping pave the way for a more sustainable future. Is the government doing enough to help encourage investment in the electric tractors, or could they be doing more?

- Certainly they could do more. I think there is a lot of incentives on the on road automotive side, not enough on the off road. California has taken the leap forward. They have come up with a code program which offers probably around 80% of the tractor value as an incentive. Colorado has picked up to offer 40 to 45%. I wish three things would happen. One is government offers incentive for rural lifestyle, hobby folks even commercial hen livestock farmers to buy tractors, electric tractors. And also government should promote sustainable energy solar-based farming where we can not just charge the tractors but also sell the energy to the city grid and have a holistic solution of not just electric tractor but all kinds of renewable energy being used. I wish the government does more. But the inflation direction act the one which Biden government has released is probably going to invest a lot on the charging infrastructure and hopefully some more incentives for electric tractors.

- You mentioned that holistic approach and I couldn't help but getting chills just thinking about that. To build a more sustainable future and it starts with even in the farming communities where you can create, you can harvest solar energy and then use that to power your tractors.

- I completely agree with you, Steve. I think we are getting used to this industrial production of agriculture. I understand, huge acreage, you need big tractors to run this production. But what we have gotten off in the last many years is from community-based farming. If we get back to community-based farming where you use electric tractor charge it with solar or any kind of renewable energy and reduce the farm size, reduce the supply chain which also uses a lot of fossil fuel get closer to the market then you have a win-win solution for everything.

- Yeah I can almost envision where it's not just organic where you're buying food that's organic but food that is produced on a kind of solar-powered farm. Using your technology, using that solar farming to really not just organic, but sustainable products, right?

- Oh, absolutely. See, we talk about regenerative and you just mentioned that we're leading the transition to a regenerative agricultural operations. Regenerative is . So you gain, or you retain, more than 10% of the organic matter in the soil. You don't compact it too much and like regular practice of compacting it too much you have to add a lot of fertilizer and pesticides and all that stuff. I always challenge this. How come it's organic? When you have diesel particulates on the crop when you have diesel particulates on the grapes which makes wine? I think we have to sincerely talk about what is organic and what could be the true, sustainable regional farming methods.

- Mani, I'm very curious to know more about this regenerative or reclaiming of energy and feeding it back to your batteries. Can you talk about that a little bit more?

- So when you go downhill, or you brake or you lift the foot off of the accelerator all those actions will regenerate energy into the motor motor acts like a generator and it will charge the battery. So almost 15 to 20% regeneration happens in a normal run of usage of a battery. And that's important because we can put in an extensional battery pack we talked about the run time but you can use the tractor pretty much as a generator for any disaster relief Yeah, you can hook up an inverter and get power out to run any house or essential as a mobile back-up power. You can have poles on the tractor to run other recruitments around. So there are many things you can do on the tractor not just to run the tractor but use the energy. So regen is very important so that you have enough energy in the tractor, as well as using it for other purposes.

- That sounds like just being more efficient with the energy that you do have is really important. I'm gonna go back to one other topic here, briefly. And that has to do with food that you're producing which is just healthier for you and better and just less pesticides and just more organic soil that you're gonna be pulling this from or growing your food from. But what does that do to the cost? Will it make things more expensive? I mean is this going to be a challenge for us as consumers?

- See I would say we should talk, when it comes to cost we should start with the input cost, right? And then what it takes to what are you doing in order to grow food. And then you go into what metrics are you using to grow food, and then the harvesting and then getting to the market. So if you see every element now let's talk about electric tractor as one part which is the motor unlike diesel has got probably 350 parts, yeah? So it's low cost of maintenance. Then we talked about no oil, no fuel. Diesel fuel is pretty expensive today and we talked about the energy of electric tractor is probably less than one tenth of what the diesel fuel cost would be so that's the second cost. Now I understand people will say, the tractor costs more. Yes, the tractor will probably cost 25 to 30% more. But every hundred hours you reduce the cost by one third. So in three years, you get your money back. And then after that everything else is gravy. Now you keep going and we talked about community-based farming where if you have, you reduce the supply chain cost you reduce the cost of operations you reduce the cost of maintenance then you use regenerative farming where you have less , no compaction living organisms, no pesticides, no fertilizers just imagine Steve, you're adding up to the point where the cost full ultimately will be costing less to the market, much more organic, and much more productive. So if we can at least take elements of this kind I bet you can reduce the cost of the full as an output. And in the past, people talked about whether the battery cell costs have come down significantly. It's coming down as we speak on a daily basis. So it's pretty affordable when it comes to what the battery cost is. The battery life is ten years. It's a recyclable battery that you can use it for other purposes. And then the work, the run time the tractor does and as we said we are talking about 75 kW battery pack which is the bulk of the market in North America and across the world which can do farming. Then we talked about solar generation of power to power the tractor. So there are, everything put together will not just save costs but I think we are already there today.

- Well Mani I want to thank you for your time today. I learned a great deal about the electric tractor, electric farming how we can create a more sustainable future.

- Oh absolutely. I appreciate the opportunity. I would like to say one more thing here. Our company Solectrac is a wholly owned company by Ideanmoics. Ideanomics is also a one-stop electrification partner with three verticals mobility products and services, energy and capital. And you can get anything and everything under the sun from Ideanomics and Solectrac.

- Well good, well thank you again for joining us today.

- [Announcer] Thank you for tuning in to Point B. Join us next time for more auto tech innovations and trends. Point B is brought to you by Sibros.