Turf Magazine - November, 2013

FEATURES

Charrge!

2014 the breakout year for battery-powered turf and landscape gear?
By Ron Hall

Regardless of what you think you know about battery-powered equipment you will have electric units on your trailers - and probably sooner rather than later.

Keep reading and I think you will see why.

Battery-powered landscape equipment was one of the most noticeable trends at the recent 2013 GIE+EXPO. Had a Martian been dropped onto the mammoth Kentucky Exposition hall floor in Louisville, Ky., he could have hardly been blamed for thinking that the landscape/lawn service industry was equally powered by compact, replaceable battery packs and by gasoline-fueled engines.

He would have been wrong, of course. The industry remains solidly wed to engines fueled by gasoline, clean diesel and, increasingly, propane.



Mean Green CEO Joe Conrad says the STALKER Stand-on can save contractors $6 an hour in fuel costs.
Photo by Ron Hall.

Even so, the most experienced contractors attending the EXPO had to have been surprised, if not impressed, with the proliferation of new and "improved" battery-powered landscape equipment on display there.

More dense, more power

The most obvious reason, of course, is improved battery technology. Practically forgotten are the first generations of rechargeable batteries - nickel-cadmium (NiCd) and nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) - in favor of lithium-ion (LiOn) and, now, lithium ion phosphate (LiFePo4) batteries that offer longer life and higher voltages in ever-smaller, ever-lighter packages. The convenience of rapid battery change-out, improved electric motor performance and better product design/ergonomics make this latest generation of battery-powered equipment even more useful in our fast-paced, mobile work environments.

For the most part, manufacturers and suppliers of electric units at the GIE+EXPO kept the hype to a minimum. They realize that contractors are, by nature (and often by bitter experience), loath to open their wallets to unfamiliar technology.

Instead they promoted the advantages of their battery-powered offerings. These benefits are significant. They include:

  • quieter operation
  • cheaper overall cost
  • no more gas-oil mixing
  • no more pulling cords
  • less maintenance; and
  • no smelly emissions.

What's been largely missing to this point has been performance equal to similarly sized gasoline engine units. To listen to manufacturers of battery-powered units at GIE+EXPO, that gap is closing.

And even if the performance isn't 100 percent one-to-one, several questioned why contractors wouldn't have at least some battery-powered equipment (including mowers) on their trailers, especially if they maintain properties, such as HOA's, condos, retirement communities and similar sites where noise or emissions could be an issue?

Battery-powered stand-on

Why indeed, questioned Joe Conrad at the GIE+EXPO, as he touted the benefits of electric (battery-powered) commercial mowers? Conrad is CEO of Mean Green Products, LLC (http://www.meangreenproducts.com), Hamilton, Ohio, which manufactures a rapidly expanding line of mowers powered by the latest generation of LiFePo4 Lithium Energy Modules (LEMs).

While Mean Green isn't the first company with battery-powered zero-turn units (Hustler and Cub Cadet beat it to the punch), it is the first supplier to market them so aggressively to the commercial landscape market.

At this year's GIE+EXPO Conrad pulled the cover off of the STALKER, the industry's first stand-on/walk-behind electric mower. He said that the unit, with its 48-inch cut, can mow for up to five hours on its LEMs, which can be swapped out in a matter of minute so that an operator will hardly miss a beat. The LEMs and electric motor provide 350 foot-pounds of torque per drive wheel. He said that this competes (or exceeds) in available horsepower with commercial gas mowers in its class.

The STALKER borrows it motors and controllers from the company's CXR zero-turn unit, introduced at a previous GIE+EXPO. While the STALKER is constructed with a 7-gauge steel chassis and a welded steel deck, its design with angular bends and lightening holes (borrowed from the aerospace industry) make it light yet remarkably strong, according to the company.

Conrad said the unit, which because of its 48-inch cut, is ideal for small areas, can save contractors as much as $6 an hour in fuel costs.

STIHL's new backpack battery

STIHL (http://www.stihlusa.com) drew lots of interest (and contractors) to its booth with an authentic German oompah band, free beer and, not unexpectedly, one of the biggest presences at the GIE+EXPO in terms of new product announcements. One of these was the STIHL AR 900 backpack battery that powers all of its hand-held products in its STIHL Battery KombiSystem.



STIHL's AR 900 backpack battery packs a load of power.
Photo courtesy STI HL.

"The AR 900 is truly an innovation in battery technology, harnessing the same power of about five AP 180 batteries, allowing professional landscapers to cover larger jobsites, and making battery operation a true alternative to gasoline-powered equipment," said Marv Mathwig, STIHL, Inc. product manager. "Run times on a single charge range from an hour and 50 minutes for the blower and up to 11 hours for hedge trimmers and extended reach hedge trimmers."

The AR 900 weighs 15.7 pounds and is equipped with padded straps and a harness that features a hip belt and chest strap to effectively distribute battery weight for reduced fatigue.

A STIHL AL 500 lithium-ion high-speed charger charges the AR 900 backpack in less than two hours and AP 80 and AP 180 batteries to 80 percent capacity in 25 minutes.

Also new to STIHL battery-powered line is its HAS 66 Hedge Trimmer and the MSA 200 C-BQ, its most powerful lithium-ion chain saw to date.

CORE Elite Line

CORE Outdoor Power (http://www.coreoutdoorpower.com), manufacturer of "GasLess" outdoor power equipment and a newcomer to GIE+EXPO in 2012, returned to Louisville with its new CORE Elite line this year. CORE Elite uses the same motor technology that works by embedding copper-etched conductors into a multi-layered circuit board stator, which when coupled with permanent magnets allows the products to produce torque at extremely high efficiencies, said Lincoln Jore, company founder.



CORE's "GasLess" motor technology is unique to the green industry.
Image courtesy CORE.

The Montana-based company showed a new string trimmer and a new hand-held blower in the new CORE Elite line. Weighing 11pounds, the trimmer features run times of up to 90 minutes. The new 9-pounds blower clears up to 500 cubic feet per minute, producing winds of up to 120 mph and will run longer than a tank of gas, said the company.

"There's no doubt many commercial landscapers are still hesitant to trade in their gas-powered equipment and make the switch to gasless products," said Jore.

Husqvarna's new units

Husqvarna (http://www.husqvarna.com) added to its line of battery-operated products with a high-capacity Li-Ion 36 V battery that features SavE mode technology, which can be activated with the push of a button to lower output performance and increase battery life in less demanding situations (e.g., light grass trimming or small branch cutting).



Husqvarna's SavE mode technology extends battery life for more work.
Image courtesy Husqvarna.

The company's 536LiHD60X hedge trimmer delivers 100 minutes of run time, and features a pivoting rear handle to make it easier to cut the sides and tops of tall or low hedges and a professional-grade laser-cut 60 centimeter blade.

Three new high-performance trimmers - the curved 136LiL; the straight loop 536LiL; and the straight bullhorn 536LiR) - provide stepless electronic speed control, with the latter two models featuring a brushless motor and rotation direction change for professional use.

Husqvarna at the GIE+EXPO also showed three new chain saws. Of the three, the T536LiXP is best suited for arborists as it delivers powerful performance.

Oregon adds to lineup

OREGON (http://www.oregonproducts.com) announced the expansion of its 40V MAX Cordless Tool System with three new cordless products - the PS 250 Pole Saw, a second-generation ST275 Trimmer/Edger and the longer-running B 600E 40 Ah Battery Pack.

"The demand for battery-powered tools is growing as users look for alternatives to the hassles associated with gas-powered products," said Josh Huffman, senior product line marketing manager for Oregon.



OREGON tools come with a variable speed trigger to determine cutting speed and maximize run time.
Image courtesy OREGON.

The PS250 Pole Saw's telescoping shaft extends quickly and easily from 7 feet 3 inches to 10 feet 4 inches and allows for up to 15 feet of reach. Weighing 13.5 pounds with either the 2.4 Ah or 4.0 Ah Battery Pack, the PS250 is designed for more comfortable operations.

Patented gear-driven technology gives the ST275 trimmer/edger more torque. Its dual-line cutting head and flip-down edge guide make a two-in-one trimming and edging tool. A variable speed trigger enables users to determine cutting speed and maximizes run time. The unit weighs 9.4 pounds, including battery pack.

Greenworks touts brushless units

GreenWorks Tools (http://www.greenworkstools.com) launched a 40V brushless chain saw and a 40V brushless blower/vac. Both models come equipped with the company's innovative brushless motor technology and G-MAX 40V lithium-ion batteries.

"It's this unique blend of innovation and power that sets GreenWorks brushless equipment apart from the competition, making it the most powerful cordless tools on the market," said Becky Lee, marketing specialist at GreenWorks Tools. The products boast a 10-year warranty on their motors and an 80 percent longer shelf life than other conventional brushed motor brands.

The 40V brushless chain saw runs up to 65 percent cooler and vibrates up to 70 percent less than comparable gas saws. The 40V brushless blower/vac can produce wind speeds of 185 mph, a 30 percent higher air speed than comparable blowers, said Lee.

EcoPro Tools

EcoPro Tools (www.ecoprotools) showed a battery-powered trimmer, brush cutter, pole saw, cultivator and chain saw at the GIE+EXPO. It's Multi-Function Series and Single-Function Series tools. The company is promoting its new Stroba Technology Cell battery technology that it claims can prove more than 2,500 life hours. Also available is the company's 40V rechargeable lithium battery. EcoPro Tool's fast charger can charge a battery for full level within an hour.

Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine. He has been an editor in the green industry for more than 29 years. Contact him at rhall@mrpllc.com.