“Today, all wineries are asking their customers questions about phytosanitary stringency as well as decarburization issues. We have to find a solution for them.” According to Colin Chaballier, Managing Director of Exxact Robotics, hydrogen (it should be green, so it’s not derived from fossil fuels) will be an integral part of the decarbonization of winemaking in the coming years. “Apart from the decarburization aspect, the use of hydrogen responds to specific concerns in viticulture, namely compaction retention, recharging speed and noise pollution prevention.”
Weight and charging time
The project began in 2020. Exxact Robotics approached Dintec, an expert firm in prototyping and integrating mobility solutions, to graft a fuel cell onto an autonomous Traxx platform, complete with onboard hydrogen storage and command control. “Using hydrogen makes it possible to lighten the straddle carrier by 500 kg compared to lithium batteries,” explains Colin Chaballier. This is equivalent to 25% of the weight, which is important in terms of compaction. Another big advantage is the recharge time, as it only takes ten minutes to refuel and it takes hours to recharge the battery.”
This last argument flatters the speed of operation, and it is no coincidence that the autonomous straddle carrier opens up Exel Industries’ hydrogen strategy, which aims to make the robot work nearly 24 hours a day…when the latest technology (regarding hydrogen) and regulatory (regarding robots) in an open environment) locks will be released.
Operating costs similar to diesel
In 2023, Exxact Robotics will test in real conditions. In doing so, the company will test various refueling solutions, namely a network of hydrogen stations on site (60 in operation, 120 by 2024) or even on-farm and field storage solutions, not excluding self-production.
Marketing prospects appear for 2024-2025. At what price? “The question is premature,” says Colin Chaballier. On the other hand, in terms of operating costs, we have the same price as a diesel.”
In anticipation of the hydrogen version, Exxact Robotics begins industrialization of production at its Preculture factory. Introduced at Sitevi 2021, the Traxx is a single-row, stand-alone, high-clearance, narrow-vine tractor capable of tillage and spraying jobs with a conversion time of just one hour. The robot is now powered by a 56 hp diesel engine, which is the preferred battery solution due to the weight issues mentioned above. A dozen copies must be sold (or rented) for the 2023 campaign. And this time we have a price: count 145,000 euros, to which is added 20,000 euros for a ZNT-approved spray tunnel.