Each year 52 million tonnes of carbon dioxide is produced by agricultural machinery. Our reliance on fossil fuels to grow and produce our food is significant, but it doesn't have to be.
Meet Founder Duncan Aitken and head of operations Tony Tsai, the team behind Loxley Innovation, the Christchurch-based company looking to tap into the power of electricity to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to grow food by creating electric tractors.
With backgrounds in software engineering and electronics engineering respectively the duo of Loxley is one of the start-ups taking part in our three month Sprout 2022 Accelerator in the Cohort VIII intake.
"The problem we're looking to solve is the reliance on diesel to grow food. That's the core of what we're doing," said Duncan.
The initial seed of their idea started on Duncan’s 10-acre lifestyle block in Christchurch. Faced with needing to keep on top of track maintenance, Duncan invested in a ride-on lawnmower but found the user experience lacking and the ongoing costs undesirable.
"I used it a lot on farm but figured there had to be a better way of doing it. I had a look at electric alternatives, but there weren't any that were cost-effective for me. So I decided to convert an old ride-on lawnmower that had a broken engine to battery electric."
A few years on, Duncan realised he needed something bigger, to keep on top of pasture growth. So he set off in search of electric options for small tractors and again was left wanting. So naturally, he converted his own.
The 48-volt system has saved them $1,300 in fuel over the five years he’s been using it. While the upfront cost of conversion was high, the electric tractor has achieved significant savings in fuel and maintenance costs.
The really big 'aha' moment came later when the duo realised they could do more than cut grass with it. The system Duncan designed at home is one where the tractor can be used to support their home power usage and potentially feed into the grid when power prices are high.
"One day, the prices weren't favourable to feedback into the grid, we weren't getting enough solar power generated, and I wanted to cook dinner. I was able to use the battery in the tractor to feedback into the house network to power the oven to cook dinner. That was the big ‘aha’ moment."
With an expected increase in uptake of electric vehicles, there are concerns from many about the grid not being able to support the increased power demands.
"Electric vehicles aren't the problem. They're actually part of the solution to grid instability if we use it intelligently – that's what we're aiming to do," said Tony.
The Loxley team say that their business is unique because they're looking at the bigger picture of energy use on farm and the potential for optimisation for the whole farm system.
They have calculated that in New Zealand, they could reduce tractor emissions from 25 tonnes per year per tractor down to 1 tonne per year per tractor using the current grid mix of renewable and fossil energy.
"We also estimate that total cost of ownership for electric tractors, when you're optimising it for power grid support, is about 52% less than diesel equivalents, which is significant.”
"Our idea is the culmination of where we are now technologically. The benefits that will come with mass production of electric cars will be there for larger vehicles, and we want to get ahead of that curve and be leading this change," said Duncan.
They are hopeful that being part of the Sprout Accelerator will get them a step closer to creating an official prototype they can put through its paces and grow their team to ensure the longevity of their business and achieve their goals.
Loxley Innovation is best described as a group of people working together to achieve the greater good, a notion that would make the inspiration for the company name, Robert Loxley AKA Robin Hood, immensely proud.