By Brian Feehan
Shifting to propane-fueled lawn mowers is making sense for a growing number of commercial lawn and landscape companies, for a variety of reasons. Propane-fueled mowers reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50 percent compared with gasoline-powered models, and carbon monoxide emissions by more than 80 percent. That allows lawn and landscape companies to operate during pollution advisory periods when usage of mowers running on traditional fuels like gasoline is limited or prohibited.
With propane-fueled mower models available from more than a dozen industry-leading brands, many options are available for commercial lawn and landscape companies wishing to introduce them to their fleets. As with all mower makes and models, effective fleet management enhances propane-fueled mowers’ ability to continue running and increase sustainability. For example, a key component of fleet management is lowering operating costs while observing manufacturer product warranties.
When it comes to propane-fueled mowers, refueling is another part of effective fleet management for commercial lawn and landscape companies. This encompasses ongoing fuel delivery from a trusted propane provider, along with exchanging empty mower propane cylinders for full replacements. Understanding and planning in both areas, with an emphasis on appropriate training and safety measures, will help ensure successful ongoing operation.
Offering quality service and fuel contract options to commercial lawn and landscape companies is a key growth strategy for the thousands of propane providers in the United States. A close look at the mature propane-fueled forklift industry shows these companies have perfected ease of refueling for customers. There are more than 600,000 propane-fueled forklifts in operation every day in U.S. warehouses, distribution centers and manufacturing plants. Propane providers supply those facilities to meet just-in-time inventory as often as needed, either through propane cylinder exchange programs or on-site refueling.
This same approach is currently being applied to the propane-fueled mower market refueling infrastructure. In a propane cylinder exchange program, a propane provider typically installs a secure cage where it’s most convenient on the lawn and landscape company’s premises. The propane provider subsequently replaces empty cylinders with full ones during regularly scheduled deliveries, a process that becomes virtually transparent to lawn and landscape company management and employees alike. In addition to conserving time and resources, such programs also typically offer a variety of fuel contract options.
For lawn and landscape companies requiring large propane volumes, a propane provider can install a no-spill dispenser on site. The dispenser can be used to refuel both propane cylinders and work vehicles fueled by propane autogas. Also, there are thousands of public propane autogas refueling stations available in the United States, so lawn and landscape companies that rely on drivers to refuel work trucks every day can maintain that approach.
Photos provided by the Propane Education & Research CouncilRefueling methods
There are two ways to refuel a propane-fueled commercial lawn mower: Exchanging an empty propane cylinder for a full replacement, and on-site refueling with an installed no-spill dispenser. In either method, appropriately trained personnel should conduct a comprehensive inspection of the propane cylinder in order to ensure good working order. That includes looking for leaks, cracks, bulging, denting, gouging and rusting, along with investigating the cylinder’s valves and fittings.
The valves and fittings are found on the cylinder’s service end, located within a special protective collar. Those valves and fittings include:
Filler valve, which allows the cylinder to be filled with propane
Fixed maximum liquid level gauge, which ensures the cylinder is filled to the proper amount.
Fuel gauge, which displays the propane level within a cylinder
Service valve, which connects the cylinder to the mower
Both refueling methods should always be completed by personnel with appropriate training and adhere to all safety measures. That includes using proper personal protective equipment (PPE), and also ensuring that the mower’s engine is off and the parking brake is set. Like refueling with conventional fuels, personnel exchanging propane cylinders should make sure the mower is away from all sources of ignition.
Step-by-step descriptions of both refueling methods can be found in the Video Library portion of www.poweredbypropane.org. Note that those descriptions should not be considered a replacement for a formal training session with a propane provider, mower manufacturer, or equipment dealer.
Easy refueling, through propane cylinder exchange or an on-site no-spill dispenser, is making the transition to propane-fueled mowers easier for commercial lawn and landscape companies. Effective fleet management has always been one of the most important aspects of running an effective lawn and landscape company, and will continue to be just as important after a transition to propane-fueled mowers. Owners and managers must place emphasis on appropriate training and safety measures, especially with regard to refueling. Getting started is a simple matter of contacting propane-fueled mower manufacturers, propane providers, equipment dealers, or the Propane Education & Research Council.
Brian Feehan is vice president of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), which was authorized by the U.S. Congress with the passage of Public Law 104-284, the Propane Education and Research Act (PERA), signed into law on October 11, 1996. PERC’s mission is to promote the safe, efficient use of odorized propane gas as a preferred energy source.
 Propane Education & Research Council, “Video Library,” www.autogasusa.org/video-library/ (accessed Feb. 22, 2011)