Article Image
News Link • Energy

Allis-Chalmers Fuel-Cell Tractor 1959

• History Wired

Allis-Chalmers Fuel-Cell Tractor

No heat, no smoke, no noise

In October 1959, this Allis-Chalmers tractor successfully plowed a field of alfalfa in West Allis, WI--its 20-horsepower motor run not by a standard battery but by what was then the largest operational fuel-cell unit in the world. Fuel cells produce electrical power directly through a chemical reaction, without heat, smoke, or noise. Unlike standard batteries, the cells do not store energy but convert chemical energy to electrical energy. After the October 1959 demonstration in the alfalfa field, the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company donated the tractor to the Smithsonian.
1959 Allis Chalmers Fuel Cell Tractor

Departing from the lightweight 80 horsepower IH HT 340 above, this 20 horsepower tractor weighed 5270 pounds, and certainly required no supplementary weight. Here was power of a completely different type. The AC fuel cell tractor used an AC D-12 tractor chassis loaded with 1008 individual fuel cells, fueled by a mixture of gasses, but predominantly propane, which in turn created a current flow. This was channeled through to an Allis Chalmers 20 hp DC electric motor to propel the tractor. Each fuel cell was about one quarter of an inch thick, 12 inches square, and produced approximately one volt of output. In unison, the 1008 fuel cells made an output of about 15KW.

Unconventional, to say the least!

Using the controller at the operator’s left, the four banks of fuel cells could be connected in series or in parallel, thus varying the voltage reaching the DC motor, much like a throttle. Reverse was simply a matter of reversing the polarity of the current through the controller with the crank-like handle. AC was excited by their research, noting that their tractor was twice as efficient as others of the period, the power was derived from no moving parts, it produced no emissions, and ‘ran without a whisper’. Futuristic indeed, and the recent resurgence in interest in fuel cell technology, along with environmental concerns, could still make a fuel cell tractor a reality. This tractor is now in the Smithsonian Institute.

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Ronald Whittaker
Entered on:

We had this technology in 1959 and we still haven,t gone as far as we should have by now. That,s sad.

Join us on our Social Networks:


Share this page with your friends on your favorite social network: