Propane-powered lawn mowers: A cut above other turf care fuels

March 1, 2006 By and    

Mowing down the competition may have new meaning for propane marketers who push the turf care benefits of LPG-powered commercial lawn mowers. By providing fuel for this brand new equipment, marketers could rake in some off-season greenbacks.

The arrival this spring of factory-built propane lawn mowers could cut a swath through the nation’s fertile lawn care marketplace, bringing summer load to propane retailers who partner with landscape equipment dealers.

Conversion kits have been around for while, but now propane-dedicated production models are rolling off assembly lines and onto environmentally sensitive grasslands. Propane’s clean-burning properties make these mowers a highly functional, “green” alternative in this $8 billion nationwide market.

Pollution-conscious communities, golf courses, universities and other institutions can make hay with improved air quality, while at the same time save green energy through better fuel efficiency and fewer oil changes.

Gasoline’s sloshes, splashes and spills are eliminated, along with harmful vapor releases, plus pilferage becomes a non-issue at isolated locations where stored gas cans invite “fuelish” thievery.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a typical 4-hp gasoline lawn mower engine generates nearly six times as many VOCs (volatile organic compounds) per hour of use as the family car. Compared to a gasoline-powered mower engine, a propane version reduces emissions of ozone precursors by one-third; fuel economy is boosted 14 percent.

 Propane Advantages
Propane Advantages

That’s particularly important in communities where smog problems trigger daily bans on dirtier diesel or gas lawn mowers. Mowers running on propane qualify to run under those EPA restrictions, and offer double the cutting time before refueling since they can store more fuel on the vehicle.

“We’re excited about the market and it’s potential,” says Jessie Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing for Blossman Gas, based in Ocean Springs, Miss.

“Do research in your market and talk to potential users. Assist the landscape equipment suppliers (who also handle equipment maintenance) to get the equipment into your market,” he advises propane marketers.

“The market appears to be huge in Texas, California, Arizona, Georgia and Florida. Interestingly enough, Ohio is going to be a promising market because they also use this equipment for snow removal.”

For years, Blossman personnel have been building propane mower prototypes and enhancing the engineering refinements. The company worked with Manchester Tank to develop a vapor cylinder needed to ensure smooth, steady performance.

A huge advantage

The Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) recently earmarked $125,000 toward its Propane Commercial Mower Development Program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy. The project promotes propane’s role as a viable mower fuel for professional landscapers and large-property owners.

“There’s a great opportunity here,” says Brian Feehan, PERC’s managing director of engine fuel programs.

“It has a very good potential for the propane industry to introduce new gallons into the market. It’s summertime load, which has a huge advantage to it.”

Each commercial mower will burn 900 to 1,000 gallons of propane per year, Feehan forecasts, noting that Dixie Chopper anticipates selling 500 to 1,000 propane models in 2006.

Along with Dixie Chopper’s spring debut, Envirogard/Onyx is also rolling-out a line of propane mowers. Other manufacturers are studying the technology as well, keeping their plans under wraps.

“There seems to be a big demand,” says Jim Coker, Envirogard’s president, citing market research and pre-orders. “They’re being sold before they’re even built.”

Both companies’ lines consist of sit-down, zero-turn radius machines known as ZTRs. Envirogard has a 31-hp, 61-in. wide model equipped with a propane-dedicated Briggs and Stratton engine. A 17-hp converted Kawasaki powers the 42-in. version.

Dixie Choppers’ models have specially designed 30-hp Generac propane engines with 60- and 72-inch cutting widths.

Jim Hilburn, Dixie Chopper’s national service manager, praises the ruggedness and dependability of the Generac motors on the units.

“The engine has been powering home standby electrical generators for 15 years,” he notes.

Turfcare professionals can anticipate paying a premium for propane mowers. A landscape equipment supplier in Arkansas charges about $1,400 extra for comparable Dixie Chopper gasoline/LPG models.

A 30-hp, 60-inch LPG mower was selling for $11,699; the 33-hp 60-inch gasoline version costs $10,299. For the 72-inchers, the 30-hp propane unit lists at $11,999, compared to a $10,999 sticker for 33-hp when powered by gasoline.

“It’s a natural for state and national parks, campgrounds, RV parks and mobile home parks – places that already have propane on hand,” says Eric Bernsee, Dixie Chopper’s public relations director. The PR benefits of lowering toxic emissions could be considerable in areas with concerns over air quality, he adds.

The company, a long-time pioneer in ZTR technology that boasts of making “the world’s fastest lawn mower,” became interested in propane a few years ago after seeing the crowds at a RV Park Owners Association trade show in Savannah, Ga., surrounding a Blossman-built LPG prototype fashioned from a John Deere mower.

“The Dixie Chopper guys came over and said, ‘Wow! We like the attention you’re attracting,'” says Feehan.

“The light came on for them,” says Johnson, noting that Dixie Chopper had lost a large contract proposal over lack of an alternative-fueled mower in its lineup. “It’s a unique experience to climb on this piece of equipment and mow grass.”

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