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The first prototype of a biogas tractor for Fontanafredda’s first “green” Barolo

A noble wine, a historic cru, from organic grapes, and produced with the help of an innovative zero-emission tractor. It will be Barolo Vigna La Rosa, Fontanafredda, 2021, a vintage destined to make history: for the first time a winery has joined a research and innovation project led by FPT industrial, a brand of the CNH industrial group, which will lead to the production of the first zero-emission wine through the use of agricultural vehicles powered by biomethane. The prototype of the first tractor of this kind was used from the beginning of the vegetative cycle until the joyous moment of the harvest, in which I had the pleasure of participating as a curious reporter and excited witness of a historic moment for environmental sustainability in Italy. 

The Piedmontese Langhe is one of the most fascinating places in our country, a land that produces great wines, but also a land of experimentation and innovation. What sometimes we don’t consider, and what I would like to emphasize with this article, is that there is no contradiction at all between the protection of the environment, the perpetuation of rural and historical traditions, the pride of our territories, and the use of technology to support this goal. 

Seeing the zero-emission agricultural vehicle in action, the first prototype of a New Holland crawler tractor with an FPT Industrial F28 Natural Gas engine powered by bio-methane, made me aware of certain aspects that I had not considered, in addition to the obvious advantage of CO2 savings: one of the most important is the lower noise impact. Around the healthy vineyard lives an ecosystem made of insects and wild animals that must be preserved and respected. Many companies today implement protocols to promote biodiversity, but the noise pollution of vehicles with traditional internal combustion engine certainly does not act in this direction. Seeing a tractor in motion through the vineyards without perceiving the noise of the engine, is something wonderful: it was like witnessing that nature and technology cannot only coexist, but collaborate in respect. 

It’s a tractor that has the same potential and characteristics as a traditional vehicle,” says Pierpaolo Biffali, vice president of Product Engineering at FPT Industrial. “It’s tracked, agile and designed so that it can move even between the steepest rows of vines in the hills. We’ve had very positive feedback from the workers who have used it in recent months for work in the vineyard, both in terms of performance and in terms of silence and safety. The engine is the heart of the agricultural vehicle, it can run on both gas and biomethane, it’s modular and will soon be available in a hybrid version. 

Pierpaolo Biffali, vice president Product Engineering FPT Industrial

Natural gas, like biomethane, is one of the options, along with electricity, for the energy transition and circular economy, the transition from an economy based on fossil fuels to renewable sources. “Biomethane in particular,” Biffali explains, “is produced from waste, so our vehicle fits into a virtuous system of circular economy. In fact, the green residues of agricultural activity can be used for the production of biomethane that will then fuel the vehicles used in the company”. In a single stroke, therefore, two problems are solved: the disposal of green waste (prunings, clippings, wood) and the supply of energy to the agricultural fleet. 

FPT Industrial introduced the first natural gas engines twenty-five years ago and today there are over 55,000 trucks, tractors and buses in operation. The company’s commitment to reducing the impact of all its industrial activities has also taken the form of participation in a series of partnerships, such as those with Fontanafredda, Green Pea and Eataly, where the Cursor X concept was presented, a concept that is now on display at the Discovery Museum in Turin. 

During my visit to Fontanafredda I also had the chance to discuss these issues with Andrea Farinetti, Oscar’s son, who told me about the family’s many projects aimed at what they define as the indispensable “green renaissance”: “Technological evolution, experimentation and innovation have always been a DNA part of Fontanafredda, a historical winery, founded by Vittorio Emanuele’s son in 1878 and which today manages 120 hectares of vineyards in an organic system – Farinetti said -. FPT and us shared a path that had an acceleration during the lockdown period. Stopping helped us to start again with even more strength but with the intention of putting the land back at the center. The Renaissance was the era in which, after the darkness of the Middle Ages, famine and pandemics, we started again by putting man at the center. Today, we, with due parallelism, must promote a green renaissance, which puts nature back at the center, which during the lockdown has taken back its space. 

The partnership with FPT was the most important step in implementing the green renaissance at Fontanafredda, but it also triggered a series of other sustainable actions: fully recyclable packaging made from reusable materials, from bottle glass to labels, carbon-neutral sugar cane agglomerate caps, and the company’s lighting renovation project with Eni (the Italian main electricity provider), which implied smart bulbs to cut energy consumption. In the month of October, we will also begin the construction of a cogeneration plant in the village of Fontanafredda,” Farinetti adds, “which will allow us to extend district heating with certified green methane, from renewable energy, to all our production and hospitality facilities. This is what is known as the “spillover effect”: you start with a biomethane tractor and end up rethinking the entire company policy on sustainability. 

And we, as consumers, have the powerful weapon of purchasing choice to sustain companies like FPT and Fontanafredda that are concretely committed to a greener, more sustainable future. We will have to wait until 2025 to sip Barolo Vigna La Rosa 2021, but it will have a unique flavor, the one of respect for the earth. 

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