I have a guilty concscience. You see, even though I aspire for literary greatness one day (hey, we all need dreams) most of my jobs have involved menial, manual labor. Right now, that is landscaping in a fancy-pants Connecticut town where most of the people have more money than free time.
But landscaping is a dirty, dirty business. My boss will sometimes go through a 100 gallons of gas in a week between his trucks, mowers, blowers, and trimmers. What’s more, although the EPA is imposing new regulations for small gasoline engines, they don’t take effect until 2012 (although California has already enacted its own standards). Engines under 50 horsepower can contribute significant smog emissions in some states because most of these mowers don’t even have basic catalytic converters, and run on mixed gas-oil fuel.
But there is an even better solution, one that for some landscaping companies seems only…natural. Natural gas, to be exact.
Propane-powered vehicles are nothing new. Many warehouses use propane forklifts because they don’t emit smelly exhaust in an enclosed space, and there are conversion kits for automobiles to run on propane. But perhaps most promising is the use of propane on lawn service equipment. Spilled gas is a part of the job when you are filling up equipment 10-12 times a day, and gas-powered trimmers are loud and smelly and can eat through a 16oz tank of gas in an hour or less. A 60-inch mower can mow maybe 15 large lawns on a 5 gallon tank, and then you need to go to the nearest gas station to fill up if you don’t want to be carrying around gallons and gallons of extra fuel. The EPA estimates that gas mowers account for 5% of ALL U.S. air pollution. One mower makes enough pollution for 43 new cars driven 12,000 miles in a year!
Propane is in every way a better choice for landscapers. Not only is it cleaner burning, but it is cheaper and easier to use as well. Propane costs during the summer cutting season (at least here in New England the grass don’t grow in the snow) are usually between 30-50 percent cheaper than petrol. Companies like Lehr have developed propane-powered trimmers that use screw-in propane tanks you might use on a small camping stove. You know, those little green cans that cost $5 for a two pack? Those two canisters are good for around 4 hours of trimming, whereas a gas-trimmer would need to be refilled at least four times. The savings on trimmers might be negligible, but on mowers it can really add up.
Companies like Exmark and Onyx offer propane mowers right from the factory, and Kawasaki offers a propane conversion kit as well. 15 gallons of propane strapped to a mower deck can offer around 13-14 hours of continuous operation, whereas a gas mower would need 10 gallons of gas for this same. The price savings can still be up to 20% or so over gas, depending on the prices of fuel. But the savings on the environment are worth so much more, and companies like Clean Scapes in Austin, Texas, have already made the conversions on all their equipment.
Hank Hill would be proud.