Alternative fuel sources help lower emissions
By Jeremy Wishart
Propane cylinders can give mower operators 7-10 hours of uninterrupted cutting
By Jeremy Wishart
May 20, 2019 – Landscape contractors have more options than ever before when considering alternative fuel equipment for their fleets. More and more brands continue to add propane or battery-powered equipment to their lineups to meet demands for reduced emissions and noise pollution. And while alternative fuels used to be seen as niche products, the equipment now offers multiple advantages to contractors that may tip the scales away from gasoline and diesel.
For one, both propane and batteries can offer reduced fuel costs compared to traditional fuels and eliminate the risk of damaging small engines with ethanol. Propane-powered mowers reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent, nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions by 19 per cent, and sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions by 16 per cent compared to gasoline mowers. Commercial handheld, battery-powered equipment is quiet and produces no emissions during operation, though make no mistake that emissions may still be produced by the upstream power sources that supply the electricity for battery-powered equipment.
But with so many options, contractors likely also have many questions about how to add alternative fuels into their fleets. Contractors can start by asking themselves these four questions to gain insight into how using an alternative fuel can benefit their operation.
How would an alternative fuel impact daily operations?
Contractors who take a closer look at their current operations may see how alternative fuels can provide solutions for some of the common pain points in landscape maintenance. For example, the wide availability of gasoline at refueling stations is one reason for the fuel’s continued usage in the industry – it’s easy to find if crews run out. But because crews using gasoline typically need to stop work to refuel mower tanks and jerry cans throughout the day, the fuel can also be a major hindrance to productivity.
In comparison, contractors who switch to propane mowers will find that crews can go a full day with just one or two propane cylinders. Propane mowers use either two 33.5-pound cylinders in tandem or a 43.5-pound cylinder. On average, operators can get through seven hours of mowing with one 43.5-pound cylinder, and as many as 10 hours with mowers that use dual 33.5-pound cylinders. Extra cylinders can be carried on a truck or trailer, as well. Propane cylinders can be refueled by employees at the end of each work day from a larger propane tank, or a propane cylinder exchange program with a propane supplier can be set up to ensure crews always have full cylinders available on the contractor’s property.
Using battery-powered equipment alongside propane mowers can cut a contractor’s gasoline use even further. However, for handheld equipment in particular, crews need to be diligent about battery management, or face downtime throughout the day. To reduce the need for more batteries, contractors can look at portable charging options such as adding solar panels to the roofs of enclosed equipment trailers or using propane-powered inverter generators. An inverter generator is quieter than a conventional generator, making it perfect for contractors working in neighbourhoods and near schools or health facilities where noise reduction is valued.
How can contractors find alternative fuel equipment?
A good first step for contractors considering alternative fuel equipment is checking with their local outdoor power equipment dealer to see what is already offered by the brands they carry. Multiple brands now have commercial battery-powered handheld equipment, and a dozen brands offer propane-powered commercial mowers. Dealers may be able to set up equipment demos, or have connections with an OEM to answer questions.
Contractors looking at propane mowers in particular have even more options to get started with the alternative fuel. Because so many OEMs now produce dedicated propane mowers or have models that can be fitted with a conversion kit, contractors may actually be able to continue using the same mower brand or model they currently operate. Additionally, if a local dealer is unfamiliar with the fuel, contractors can also turn to a local propane supplier to answer questions about how to get started with propane mowers.
Contractors considering propane can also take advantage of the alternative fuel beyond mower fleets with propane autogas. Like propane mowers, propane autogas vehicles produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline vehicles. The alternative fuel can be used in a number of light and medium-duty trucks, vans, and chassis models, too, with versatile propane autogas conversion kits. Propane autogas is already widely used across North America, with nearly 4,000 publicly available refueling stations located in Canada and the United States according to the Alternative Fueling Station Locator created by Natural Resources Canada and the U.S. Department of Energy.
What options are available for alternative fuel equipment maintenance?
A major advantage to contractors considering propane equipment is that maintenance technicians comfortable working on gasoline and diesel mowers will be able to maintain a propane mower in much the same way. Propane mowers use internal combustion engines similar to those used in gasoline mowers and may feel more familiar to maintenance technicians than other alternative fuels.
Contractors can learn more about how to set up in-house maintenance technicians with training on alternative fuel equipment by speaking with an equipment dealer or a propane supplier, as well. A dealer or propane supplier may also be able to train maintenance technicians on converting, maintaining, and repairing propane mowers, or have connections to OEMs and training facilities that do.
How can alternative fuels impact costs?
Lower fuel costs associated with using alternative fuel equipment is a major reason landscape contractors consider switching away from gasoline. But how will they know if another fuel source will save their specific operation money?
The simplest way to see what impact alternative fuels could have on a budget is to conduct an audit on their current fuel use. Consider, too, the impact that budgeting for gasoline price increases has on your business or on customers.
Although electricity costs vary across Canada, the country’s mix of power sources generally keep the cost per kilowatt hour low in comparison to what a contractor would spend on an hour of running gasoline equipment. Generally, electricity costs will remain much more stable throughout the year than gasoline or diesel, as well. However, with battery equipment, contractors need to consider recharging on the go, which can add additional costs.
On average, contractors using propane mowers will pay 30 to 40 per cent less in fuel costs compared to traditional fuels. The price of propane historically falls between the prices of natural gas and oil, which greatly limits market price fluctuations compared to the wild price swings that gasoline and diesel often have in a given season. The majority of the propane supply used in both Canada and the United States is produced in North America, as well, providing cost stability even when global fuel markets fluctuate. Contractors can see their approximate savings with propane, too, by using this cost calculator from the United States-based Propane Education & Research Council.
It’s no question that adding alternative fuels can provide advantages to a contractor’s operation. For more information on using propane mowers or propane autogas work trucks, visit www.propane.com/landscape.
Jeremy Wishart is the director of off-road business development at the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at Jeremy.firstname.lastname@example.org.