When Eric Hansen read about a Dixie Chopper salesman driving a propane-powered lawn mower from Indiana to Sacramento, Calif., it sparked an idea Hansen hadn’t thought of during his nearly two decades in business.
“I thought that was really interesting that they would come up with an engine that would work and run and operate on propane,” says Hansen, president of Competitive Lawn Service in Downers Grove, Ill.
Hansen turned to the Internet with questions about converting his equipment to propane. There was nothing. He called propane wholesalers. They thought he was nuts. “They said, ‘We don’t know what you’re talking about. This is crazy,’” Hansen says.
A similar story has taken place in the last three years as Hansen has navigated the world of propane-fueled equipment through his own experimentation.
He started by installing propane engines into two ride-on mowers. They performed so well he decided to take the idea one step further, and then another and another. Now, he’s retrofitted equipment of all sizes with propane tanks. From Roush, Hansen purchased the first Ford F-350 to run on propane. And Competitive Lawn Service installed a 1,000-gallon propane tank on its property.
“This isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t cheap,” Hansen says. “The reality is that this is beginning to shape the market for what it actually can be. I think over time things are going to change. Manufacturers will hopefully not be so old school and respond to these things.”
While Hansen has made propane work for his company, it has created headaches.
First was meeting compliance issues. What should have been a 30-day process to install the propane tank turned into seven months of waiting to receive permits and to meet codes.
Second, the upfront cost involved: That F-350 cost $43,000. The company received about $9,500 in state and federal money for buying an alternative-fuel vehicle, but Hansen says it can take a year to see the checks.
Third, there’s risk in betting on government reimbursement. Competitive Lawn Service was getting a $.50 per gallon tax credit from the federal government, but in 2010 it stopped extending the credit for lawn equipment use.
“The fun thing is, yes we can do it, and we can make this is a viable opportunity,” Hansen says. “It’s difficult, but we can do it. I think it’s worth it, and I think it will be worth it over time as we drive the prices down.”
Certainly, Hansen has seen benefits: Installing a fill station on site and working with suppliers has dropped Hansen’s price for propane to $1.70 a gallon.
“The benefit is that propane is cheaper annually than gasoline and it always has been,” he says. “The second thing is that the equipment runs cleaner and more efficient, it’s an efficiency benefit and it’s a benefit on the maintenance.”
Instead of changing oil every 25 hours, on propane-run equipment Hansen now does it every 100 hours.
The fuel is in enclosed containers and can’t spill from its tanks onto trailers or customers’ lawns. And propane cuts emissions on his equipment by as much as 60 percent.
Hansen’s residential and government clients haven’t shown much interest in the switch to propane. But he’s made headway with larger companies with established environmental policies of their own.
In 2010, Competitive Lawn Service used 35,000 gallons of fuel, 5,000 of which was propane. Hansen’s goal is to burn about 25,000 gallons of propane in 2011.
The jump will be helped partially because of Manchester Tank’s new one-pound propane cylinders due out in January 2011. The cylinders can be used to fuel smaller equipment like blowers and trimmers.
“We worked for a year and a half screaming to get one-pounders and the market responded,” Hansen says. “Every day gets even better and better because I see more equipment we can retrofit.”
Alternative Fuel Lawn Care goes national by offering self-installed conversion kits
Gasoline to Propane or CNG for commercial mowing units now available
Kits for conversion of a gasoline mower to use propane range in price $250 – $750 dependent upon engine size and model. Conversions help to reduce operating costs through fuel and maintenance savings as well as reducing emissions. A typical commercial mower will save over $1000 annually per unit they convert to propane.
Components vary but a typical conversion kit includes: couplings, fuel lines, lock off solenoid, regulator, filer, wires, protective coverings, tank mounting brackets and other required components for installation. Bi-fuel options are available for those who choose to leave gasoline as an option.
- Costs average 30 to 40% less per gallon than gasoline
- Delivered tank exchange services reduce refueling trips
- Over 88% of propane used domestically produced in the USA
- Spillage and theft are virtually non-existent
- Propane is in many ways safer to handle than gasoline
- Mowers can operate on Ozone Action Days
- Will not go stale when stored
- Engine life is extended
- Will not wash cylinder walls thus oil life extended and routine maintenance costs reduced
- Companies take a step in becoming environmentally friendly
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