From emissions regulations to high gas prices, propane powered equipment can provide a wide range of benefits.
Commercial propane mowers are no longer a niche product for environmentally-minded professionals in the turf and landscape maintenance industry, but rather a well-established alternative to gasoline and diesel. Propane now fuels more than 27,000 commercial mowers across the United States at the start of the 2019 cutting season, and a dozen mower brands produce more than 150 propane mower models in a variety of zero-turn, wide-area, and stand-on units.
Several trends in the past few years have led to this increased adoption of propane equipment in the industry, including an increasing demand for environmentally-friendly services from consumer customers and public agencies operating their own fleets or bidding out maintenance work to contractors. This is all in addition to high summer gas prices. Not only are these trends going to continue affecting landscape contractors, use of the alternative fuel will continue to provide solutions to meet a wide variety of challenges.
Propane can meet demands for reduced emissions.
Sustainable and environmentally-friendly services, treatments, and designs have been on “top trends” lists from the National Association of Landscape Professionals for several years now and aren’t likely to go away. In fact, in a 2018 survey conducted by the Propane Education & Research Council, a quarter of landscape contractors who responded believe the number of their customers requiring alternative fuels will increase in the next three years. Nearly a third of landscape contractors who responded have also considered using propane mowers.
Propane mowers aren’t just good when it comes to reducing emissions; they frequently meet or exceed current emissions standards for commercial mowers. Contractors using propane mowers reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17%, nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions by 19%, and sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions by 16%, compared to when using gasoline mowers. These chemicals are all major contributors to ground-level ozone that can cause breathing difficulties and worsen pre-existing conditions such as asthma or chronic respiratory infections.
In communities with “ozone action days,” contractors can continue to mow with propane equipment when gasoline or diesel machines would otherwise be sidelined. In addition, the EPA recognizes propane as a non-contaminant of the air, water, and soil.
Propane mowers also have clean claims over battery-powered equipment. Considering site-to-source emissions, propane is responsible for far fewer SOx emissions than electricity with approximately 30% of the U.S. still relying on coal-fired plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. Propane cylinders can also last nearly 30 years and be recycled at the end of their lives. By comparison, batteries are considered a hazmat material and may require additional costs for disposal.
Propane can reduce fuel costs.
Although gasoline prices at the start of 2019 were very low, shifts in the global fuel market along with U.S. demand have steadily increased the average national cost by 44 cents since January 1, 2019, according to AAA. The high gasoline prices of summer 2018 left a lasting memory with many contractors, and forecasts from GasBuddy are calling for gas prices to approach $3 per gallon at the height of the summer work season again. Fuel is often one of the largest portions of a contractor’s budget — and work can’t be done without it.
Contractors looking for long-term cost solutions will find that propane is consistently less expensive than gasoline because of several factors, even when the price of gasoline is low. For starters, the price of propane traditionally falls between the prices of natural gas and oil, which greatly limits market price fluctuations compared to the wild price swings that gasoline and diesel often have in a given season. Additionally, the majority of the propane supply used in the United States is produced in North America, providing cost stability even when global fuel markets fluctuate.
Creating a fuel contract with a propane supplier can also secure a set price for a period of time. This is a sure way to relieve the headaches associated with budgeting for fluctuating gasoline costs.
Propane can be a one-fuel solution.
It isn’t just with commercial mowers that landscape contractors can take advantage of propane’s benefits. Contractors may even be able to go from juggling multiple fuels to finding a one-fuel solution with propane.
Contractors using battery-powered equipment may observe challenges with keeping batteries charged throughout a day or needing to carry as many as five batteries. Instead, adding a small propane inverter generator to a truck or trailer can provide contractors with portable power that can take care of in-the-field charging.
Contractors can also use propane autogas vehicles to reduce emissions and fuel costs. Propane autogas vehicles produce up to 22 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline vehicles. The alternative fuel can be used in a number of light- and medium-duty trucks, vans, and chassis models thanks to the versatility of the many EPA- and CARB-certified propane autogas conversion kits.
Although it’s no secret that the green industry faces new changes and challenges, by adding propane equipment to a fleet, contractors can find themselves moving ahead of competition and costs.
Wishart is the director of off-road business development at the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contractors can register for a free webinar presented by PERC and Turf magazine — “Why the Growth of Propane Deserves Your Attention,” on Thursday, April 25, 2019. Learn more and register here.
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