Propane Mowers Offering 'Greener' Option For Park Districts

Propane Mowers Offering ‘Greener’ Option For Park Districts

In ongoing efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, the Fox Valley Park District operates a “green-fleet initiative” that emphasizes environmental responsibility for its armada of vehicles, tractors, mowers and engine-operated machinery.

So when it came time to purchase a new arsenal of mowers, the decision was clear-cut.

Dan Hartman rides a mean mower. Propane, that is. (CREDIT: FVPD)

You may have seen these new mowers around town at one of the district’s 165 parks or alongside the 48 miles of trails it maintains — bright red mowers with big, shiny, silver canisters on each side.

They actually look a lot like beer kegs but, instead, they are propane tanks that are tapped into the Park District’s sustainability goals.

“As a leader in the green industry, we’re always looking at ways to increase efficiency and do what’s best for the environment,” said Jerad Campbell, assistant director of park operations. “Switching one-third of our fleet from gas-powered mowers to propane mowers is central to that commitment.”

The decision came in early summer, when it was determined that 12 of the district’s 30-some mowers had exceeded their useful life; meaning maintenance and operating costs, combined with repairs, made the old mowers more expensive to operate than what they were worth.

Those mowers were auctioned off for sale, then the District followed up by signing a four-year lease for the purchase of 12 propane mowers, and the benefits – both current and future — are clip-worthy.

For starters, propane delivers a 20-percent cost savings vs. regular gasoline. What previously cost $50 for fuel can now be done for $40. Considering the district mows an average of 1,400 acres per week, those savings up quickly.

The environmental benefits are enormous. Clean-burning, propane-fueled mowers reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent compared to gas-powered engines and result in a whopping 80 percent reduction in carbon monoxide emissions.

“We definitely enjoy the fresh air,” said mower Dan Hartman. “No fumes, no foul smells. It’s great for us, and I’m sure all the people who are in the parks when we’re working enjoy it, too.

“And there’s no noticeable drop off in performance. These mowers cut through thick, heavy grass just as well as the gas-powered variety.”

Ozone action days are no longer an issue, either. Whereas gas-powered mowers were forced into mandatory downtime on hot days when air quality becomes a concern, the mow goes on with propane.

Director of Operations John Kramer anticipates a 50 percent reduction in maintenance costs as well. With propane fuel, engines operate much cleaner, thus reducing the frequency of oil changes. Propane is also higher octane than gasoline, which improves performance and engine life in the long run.

Refueling is easy — and also much cleaner. When crews return to the shop after a day of mowing, they simply put the canisters on a rack and load the mower with full tanks for the next day. AmeriGas keeps them refilled via nightly visits.

Using propane also eliminates the frequent fuel spills and refueling hazards that come with gasoline – no more refilling the tank from a gas can while at a park site.

To top it off, the Park District received a $12,000 bonus for making the switch, part of an industry incentive program to encourage growth. That money will go into increased “greening” as the District continues to evolve with much of its machinery. Campbell says the switch is in full force, with landscape tools such as leaf blowers, edgers, trimmers and even chainsaws making the switch from gas to electric.

“We’re shifting the culture,” said Campbell, “and putting sustainability among our top priorities in our daily park and maintenance operations.”

FEATURE PHOTO CAPTION: Fox Valley Park District staff Jason Ochsenschlager (left) and Dan Hartman pilot two of the District’s new propane-fueled mowers that are part of the District’s green-fleet initiative.