Engine Questions Abound

Farmer Iron

New emissions technology has you wondering what's up...stick with the basics.

Published on: January 18, 2011

Judging from some of the questions I got from the Farm Futures Business Management Summit, readers are watching engine developments closely. Of course, engine makers have been tightening down on emissions since 1996, but this latest round and the changes to the engines have your attention.

Starting this year, major farm equipment manufacturers have to phase in new interim Tier 4 engines for machinery that's rated at 175 horsepower or higher. But you won't find those engines on every machine - for example, there will combines and forage harvesters that feature Tier 3 engines. And of course the different approaches to the first-level Tier 4 equipment can confuse too.

First, there will be both Tier 3 and Tier 4A engines on the market in different equipment. That's due in part because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard allows manufacturers "flex" in what they can sell, to allow them to move to the higher environmental standard in a relatively rational way.

One part of that "flex" is that each manufacturer has credits it earned for emissions standard work that can be applied to current-year equipment. Once those credits burn off, companies will only be able to sell the highest-level emissions-compliant machines. In the meantime, you'll find a blend of Tier 3 and interim Tier 4 machines. And after 2014 it could be more complicated until all the flex credits are used up.

For the machinery buyer looking to upgrade a tractor or combine what should you know? First get to know the emissions tech approach used by your favorite brand. The major players are offering up different technologies and you need to familiarize yourself with what's out there. Second, understand the warranties offered with the new machines.

If your key brand is moving toward the selective catalytic reduction technology, which uses diesel exhaust fluid, you'll want to work out the logistics of this added fluid with your dealer. They have the product available and can work out how best to implement this technology on your farm. In winter climates realize the product does freeze (below 12 degrees F) and you just have to plan for that so the machine is ready to run when needed.

The standard requires that the DEF tech be up and running within 60 minutes of starting up the machine, but the major makers using this technology say they've got that time reduced significantly. For example, Agco runs an engine coolant tube through its DEF tank, which heats up the material quickly; they claim within 20 minutes DEF will be free flowing.

For non-SCR engines, the key maintenance area is the diesel particulate filter, which engine makers report requires little attention. At full operating temperature, the filter is self-cleaning. It will need attention at 5,000 hours, as material accumulates in the unit. These engines use exhaust gas recirculation to improve engine combustion combined with the particulate filter, to meet emission standards.

All the technologies on the market meet those higher emission standards, and there's really nothing confusing about the tech. As with most equipment purchases, it boils down to who you like to work with and what equipment needs you have for horsepower and other features. You'll find these new machines are often more fuel efficient than their predecessors, a benefit of improved knowledge about engine combustion that these engineers have learned in refining diesel tech over the last 20 years.

If you've purchased a new interim Tier 4 engine, let me know your thoughts about the tech. Registered users can comment below.