The more widespread availability of propane-powered lawn mowers is one reason they are becoming more commonplace in a landscape contractor’s mowing fleet. The two biggest reasons, though, are the environmental benefits and potential cost savings, especially for large lawn mowing operations.
“Three years ago, only two manufacturers produced propane-fueled commercial lawn mowers,” says Brian Feehan, vice president of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). “Today there are more than 29 propane-fueled commercial lawn mower models available from industry-leading brands (see sidebar). The sheer availability of a more diversified product offering has built interest, which was evidenced by attendees inquiring about propane-fueled mowers at the GIE+EXPO last October.”
Reduced Operating Costs
Feehan says interest has grown primarily because landscape companies are realizing that propane-fueled mowers can reduce their operating costs. Sean Dwyer, Husqvarna’s global product manager for zero-turn mowers and specialty turf products, tends to agree, explaining that Husqvarna’s initial reason for introducing a propane-fueled zero-turn mower was driven by the desire to offer an environmentally friendly option.
“But we quickly saw that there were definite benefits to large fleet operators,” Dwyer relates. Those benefits include lower overall cost to operate, reduced maintenance due to stale fuel (gas), and potentially longer engine life.
Feehan says that, when calculating total operating costs, landscape contractors are finding cost-savings in several additional ways:
- Virtually eliminating fuel spillage
- Virtually eliminating fuel leakage
- Virtually eliminating fuel theft
Ivan Giraldo, president of Clean Scapes in Austin, TX, says that one of the main reasons his company switched over to propane mowers a couple of years go has to do with engine performance.
“Propane has allowed us to cut maintenance costs (oil changes) while allowing the engines to operate much cleaner,” adds Robert Ortiz, fleet manager at Clean Scapes. “With less carbon deposits in the engine, we have fewer problems with a mower’s service life. Propane is approximately 110 octane or higher, which improves performance for the long run.” More than half of Clean Scapes’ mowers, which include both zero-turn riders and walk-behinds, are propane-fueled.
The price of propane alone may be enough to sway some contractors’ opinions. “Choosing propane isn’t just about emissions,” says Allen Baird, Cub Cadet Commercial product manager. “It’s also about savings, as liquid propane generally costs one-third less than gas or diesel fuel.”
With analysts predicting $100-a-barrel oil again this year, helping push gas prices to well over $3 a gallon, one must wonder if lawn maintenance contractors who are already struggling to prevent further profit margin erosion will clamor to propane-fueled mowing options. Time will tell.
In the meantime, Scag Power Equipment is one commercial mower manufacturer that’s covering its bases. Its Dual-Fuel Turf Tiger, which can run on either gasoline or propane, gives operators the flexibility to burn whichever fuel is cheaper at the moment. Operators can quickly switch between gas and propane with the simple flip of a switch, even while the engine is running.
According to Chris Frame, Scag’s director of marketing and technical services, the Dual-Fuel Turf Tiger has gained popularity in areas of the country that have ozone action days, which limit the use of gas-powered lawn mowers when weather conditions run the risk of causing health problems. If the contractor is facing an ozone action day, he can flip the switch and burn propane. When the ozone action day expires, he can switch back to gasoline if he chooses.
“Propane-fueled mowers reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost 50% compared to gasoline,” Feehan says. “There is also an 80% reduction in carbon monoxide when compared to gasoline.”