In the News

Propane Fuels A Greener Lawn Care Crew

A green lawn can have hidden costs–such as the fuel used and greenhouse gas emissions spewed by noisy, inefficient gasoline-powered mowers and other landscaping equipment.

One commercial landscaping firm in Chicago’s western suburbs is taking a step toward reducing that environmental burden by setting up the state’s first all-propane-powered landscape maintenance crew–from mowers to trimmers to a heavy-duty 1-ton pickup truck.

The truck, a Ford F350 equipped with a propane engine, will arrive in the Chicago area Wednesday, Dec. 16, after a propane-powered drive from the factory in Detroit. It will be the first Ford F350 off the assembly line at Rousch Performance in Livonia, Mich., which adapts the trucks for propane.

Eric Hansen, president of Competitive Lawn Service Inc. in Downers Grove, expects that over the coming growing season the crew will replace about 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of gasoline with liquid propane, which burns far more efficiently, reducing emissions by 50 to 60 percent.

Hansen is a member of the Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association, a group of more than 140 Chicago-area contractors, growers, suppliers, landscape designers and architects and other professionals dedicated to finding greener ways to create and care for landscapes. “By banding together we can get more traction on these issues,” Hansen says.

“MELA hopes to showcase and encourage these kinds of methods of chipping away at the unsustainable elements of the landscape industry, and the turfgrass industry in particular,” said MELA president Garth Conrad of Garth Conrad Associates, a design firm in LaPorte, Ind. “We applaud Eric’s move and hope others can learn by it.”

Other MELA members also are experimenting with propane equipment. Christy Webber Landscapes in Chicago uses two 6-foot-wide propane-powered lawnmowers. “My guys like them,” says owner Christy Webber, and she’s driven them herself. Of Hansen’s propane crew, she said, “We support anybody that’s trying to kick our industry up to a greener level.”

Hansen, whose 36-employee firm cares for commercial and residential landscapes, said he joined MELA because he wanted to work with others to reduce the environmental impact of maintaining landscapes in the long term–both by designing them more thoughtfully and by finding ways to care for them with less toxic chemicals and fuel.

One way Hansen hopes to influence others in the industry is by collecting data over the coming season on the performance, costs and emissions of his propane-powered crew compared to his seven other mostly gasoline-powered crews. Real numbers from real work, he hopes, will help convince others in the business to consider alternative fuels.

He’s not sure exactly how his costs will work out in this first season, he says, but experimentation over several years already has revealed unexpected benefits: His crews learned that trimmers and blowers retrofitted to use propane are substantially quieter than gasoline-powered ones and need their oil changed far less often.

The new truck, with Hansen driving, is scheduled to arrive at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the dealer, Al Piemonte Ford Sales, 2500 North Ave., Melrose Park.

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