Green Commercial Lawn Mowers
Advances in electric batteries are driving our cars to a quiet, clean, energy-efficient future, and increasingly batteries are replacing fossil fuels and motorized equipment like lawnmowers. On top of that, innovative charging solutions are giving a second life to electric vehicle battery packs, and a whole new meaning to growing green.
There are 40 to 50 million acres of lawn grass in the U.S., making it technically the largest irrigated crop in the country. And an estimated 56 million lawn mowers are keeping all of those yards and golf courses trimmed.
If you consider that in one hour, a single gasoline-powered mower produces the same amount of emissions as driving 11 cars, and that an estimated 17 million gallons of gas are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment, then maintaining our green spaces in the current manner isn’t doing any favors for the rest of the planet.
Which is why electric-powered lawn equipment is gaining favor with eco-conscious homeowners and forward-thinking commercial lawn care services.
The city of Burlington, Vermont has bought into the advantages of battery power, and is encouraging others to do the same.
DARREN SPRINGER: We at Burlington Electric are promoting electrification in many technology areas. We have electric vehicle programs, electric bike, electric bus, cold climate heat pumps for heating and cooling, and as part of that we also are promoting electric lawn mowers, both commercial scale, and residential. And we have rebate programs to support those, and we’re really doing it because our customers can save money, uh, when they mow electric compared to mowing with a gas mower. It's better for the environment for a variety of reasons, and it’s also quieter, so it’s better for our neighborhoods as well.
JOHN DAVIS: Consumer-grade electric mowers, blowers and trimmers are available in most big-box home improvement stores, and are cost-competitive with gas-powered models right off the shelf.
Larger commercial units, with their higher capacity batteries, may cost a bit more up front, but lower fuel and maintenance costs can pay that back and generate bottom-line savings in 3 or 4 years.
Burlington's incentive program offers up to $100 dollars for homeowners and $3500 for commercial operators who purchase electric lawn mowers. It has become their most popular rebate program, and other cities are starting to follow suit.
Blue Roof Foundation, a Dallas-based non-profit, educates consumers and pros on the tremendous potential of battery-powered lawn equipment, and came up with a unique battery recharging solution to aid in the transition.
Blue Roof has created this prototype trailer, equipped with lithium-ion modules re-purposed from a Nissan Leaf battery pack. It allows a typical lawn care crew to swap and recharge equipment batteries on location, and power through a full day of mowing without burning, or spilling, a drop of gas.
CARLOS OJEDA: The whole idea of the trailer is to really carry, store, and plug in one power cord that recharges everything inside. So the whole idea is that, during the work day, they can just come back, swap batteries, just like they were switching and refueling gasoline.
JOHN DAVIS: The high-energy battery packs that propel electric vehicles may lose capacity over time, yet still produce enough kilowatt-hours of power for less-demanding uses.
CARLOS OJEDA: Our main mission is really to reduce pollution by reducing the usage of small gas engines and switch that to electric. It just happens that, by repurposing the Leaf batteries, we’re actually at the same time, delaying the time that those batteries will end up in a landfill. So we’re giving them a second life as an effect of all this. So, it’s part of our mission, but the most important one is really to reduce pollution.
JOHN DAVIS: Reducing air and noise pollution while saving money is a win-win-win proposition. So, when it’s time to replace that old mower in your shed, remember that mowing clean can preserve the green all around us.
Heavy duty trucks transport about 70% of our goods and materials around the country and account for 10% of all miles driven on US highways. The bad news is, most big rigs travel about 6 miles per gallon of fuel, so the need to improve truck efficiency is more crucial than ever. Well, the US Department of Energy has come up with a way to find those answers.
Kicking off in 2010 and now entering its third iteration, SuperTruck is a Department of Energy-funded research program aimed at helping truck makers achieve ambitious gains in freight efficiency, or ton-miles per gallon, for the next generation of big rigs.
SuperTruck 2, which is now wrapping up, focused on diesel engines, which still, and will, power most trucks for the near future. Several teams were able to incorporate 48-volt mild hybrid systems to enable idle reduction, power the hotel loads, or driver comfort systems, and convert belt-driven accessories, like steering, to electric power, eliminating drag on the engine for more efficient operation. SuperTruck 3 will explore electric and fuel cell power trains over the next few years.
DEREK ROTZ: “As we move forward into research, we’re looking into zero emissions, and the benefits of working with the Department of Energy is not only getting a– a 50/50 cost share to allow us to share the resources on these high risk/high reward technologies, but it also opens us up to the possibility to work with the national lab systems, the university systems, and those folks that have been looking at those cutting edge– edge technologies for years.”
The result has been a super-charged R&D effort that is already paying huge dividends. One SuperTruck 2 team has achieved 16 miles per gallon, 10 more than the current on-road average, and all are on track to surpass the 100% freight efficiency goal, some reaching as much as 170% improvement.
DAREK VILLENEUVE: “We’ve looked at all aspects with an eye towards production. We don’t want to develop things off in a science box that had no means, we really want to look at things that did have a good chance for production.”
Looking at all of these futuristic designs, it’s obvious that lightweighting and aerodynamics play a big part. Technology like rearview cameras and extensive wind tunnel testing has found ways to make the big box less boxy, minimize body gaps, and improve airflow.
KEITH BRANDIS: “When you look at aero, it takes a number of factors that we have to stretch, if you will, and that was the whole purpose, was to see how far we could go with extreme aero, and you’ll see all the skirting along the side of the vehicle, but also to lower the vehicle and use low profile tires, to eliminate the amount of air that builds up around the front air dam.”
Both Peterbilt and Kenworth’s extreme aero designs build around a center seating position to allow a narrow nose. While Navistar’s sleek rig includes a curved trailer roof to maximize clean airflow across the full length. With aerodynamic gains now almost exceeding the realm of what’s possible, looking forward the R&D focus will shift back to the power train, and the target of zero emissions.
DEREK ROTZ: “So… So, decarbonizing commercial vehicles is no easy task. Uh, we’ve been at diesel for over a century now, we’ve kind of perfected it. Going into these zero emissions technologies is a whole new field, so–so it’s learning about new technologies, new technical fields such as electro-chemistry, um, things like that are new to this industry, and those are some of the barriers we need to be able to overcome.”
Here is where collaboration and innovation come into play. All of these manufacturers are up for the challenge and optimistic that zero-emission trucks will be viable not too far down the road.
MAARTEN MEIJER: “Solutions that we see as opportunities are the fuel cell electric vehicles, the hydrogen combustion engine vehicles, and the hybrid powertrains using the more traditional diesel engine concept, but switching to an e-fuel approach.”
So, what’s the bottom line of all this effort? Supertruck-developed technologies can save nearly 6 billion barrels of oil by 2050. To the average truck owner, that could ring up $35,000 a year in fuel savings! And that adds up to environmental and financial savings that benefit all of us in the long haul!