The quest for sustainability on golf courses is a noble one that typically focuses on efforts to save water and reduce chemical inputs. It's not often that fuel usage enters the conversation, other than to minimize an operation's carbon footprint through a reduction in mowing frequency. That discussion has been evolving recently as more and more operations in the turf and ornamental business look at propane as a way to reduce emissions and positively influence the bottom line.
According to the Propane Education and Research Council, the technology that allows a gas-powered engine to be run on propane has been around for more than 50 years. That movement is gaining traction because propane is cheaper than gasoline and burns cleaner than gasoline.
Gas-to-propane conversion kits are available for most small engines, including Briggs & Stratton and Kohler. John Deere offers after-market conversion kits and even makes many of its products used in landscape available off the line with propane-powered engines.
Although external propane tanks are extremely unattractive and even make a piece of equipment appear more bulky and awkward, the technology offers safety advantages. According to the PERC, all propane tanks are constructed from carbon-strengthened steel and as a result are 20 times more puncture resistant than standard gas tanks. Propane has a much higher flash point (940 degrees) than gasoline (430-500 degrees), making accidental combustion less likely to occur.
All conversion kits are different, and depending on which one is used there might be some loss of power, however, it doesn't have to be that way. Standing as an example are hundreds of police cars across the country that have been weaned off gasoline, many at the expense of confiscated drug money.
Most recently, the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana has begun converting some of its municipal fleet to alternative fuels, including transitioning mowing and maintenance equipment to propane. During the past two years, Pacific Landscape Management of Hillsboro, Oregon has converted most of its mower fleet to propane, citing reduced fuel costs, increased operating efficiency and cleaner emissions.
A study conducted through the University of Texas system also showed that engines powered by propane used less fuel, burned cleaner and were cheaper to operate (after conversion) than their gasoline-powered counterparts.