Turf Magazine - April, 2013

FEATURES

Fuel-Saving Mowing Trends

Contractors embrace newer technologies to reduce mowing costs
By Ron Hall

Here are some of the terms that we're hearing more about these days from landscape colleagues and mower manufacturers. They're presented in no particular order of importance: electronic fuel injection (EFI), propane, clean diesel, RED Technology - even electric.

In one respect or another, each of these terms represent technologies that are being promoted (and increasingly used) by contactors to give them an edge, at least in terms of fuel savings, in the cutthroat world of contract mowing. What follows is a brief overview of what each is and what it means to you.

EFI engines came to the outdoor power equipment industry in the late 1990s, when Walker Manufacturing introduced its first mower that featured a Kohler EFI engine. Fuel injection came late to the mowing industry as an Englishmen by the name of Frederick Lanchester experimented with fuel injection as early as 1890. But since arrival, contractors have heartily embraced EFI.

Exmark this spring offers a Lazer Z X-Series mowers with EFI and also featuring
electronic goverors and its new RED onboard intelligence platform that
monitors and controls key components.

Exmark this spring offers a Lazer Z X-Series mowers with EFI and also featuring electronic goverors and its new RED onboard intelligence platform that monitors and controls key components.
IMAGE COURTESY EXMARK.

Kohler engineers described EFI advantages over carbureted engines, such as more efficient fuel use, better peak power and torque, enhanced start ability in all temperatures and optimum throttle response.

Walker an early adopter

Longer engine life is a major benefit of EFI design, says Tim Cromley, marketing manager at Walker Mowers. "When the engine is running at optimal fuel intake, it is running at the best possible temperature, so engine life is improved," he says.

Along with Walker Mfg., other mower manufacturers started adapting EFI engines to their commercial equipment. In 2007, Exmark was aggressively marketing their Lazer Z zero-turn mower with EFI engine, promising fuel savings of $400 to $500 a year. Kohler engineers described EFI advantages over carbureted engines, such as more efficient fuel use, better peak power and torque, enhanced start ability in all temperatures and optimum throttle response.

Although EFI engines once added up to $1,500 to the price of a commercial mower, today's pricing typically comes in at more like $500 extra for an EFI 27 hp engine over a carbureted engine. And sales managers say this difference is minimal when you consider how much fuel the EFI engine can save in a year's operation.

Larry Sceedley is a mechanic for Small Engine World in Naples, Fla., and has run his own lawn care business, L&S Lawn Service, since 1987. He mows only on weekends due to health concerns.

Three years ago, Sceedley purchased two Walker mowers that had been traded in because of engine problems. He replaced the engines with Kohler EFI engines and has been using the mowers successfully ever since.

"With a 62-inch deck on a regular carbureted engine mower, it would take almost 5 gallons of gas to cut 5 acres. But, with the same deck on the Walker with the EFI engine, I can cut the same 5 acres in the same amount of time with less than 3 gallons of gas," says Sceedley.

Exmark has taken EFI to a new level with the introduction of its RED Onboard Intelligence platform.

RED Technology

"We've been working closely with Kohler for new EFI applications for several of our products," says Daryn Walters, Exmark senior marketing manager. "We've basically plugged in our own intelligence, an onboard computing system enabling communication and response among key systems that further enhances mowing performance."

Exmark offers EFI engines on specific models equipped with electronic governors with consistent control of engine RPMs and blade tip speeds in varying conditions. This eliminates the throttle cable and related issues along with throttle droop. The technology reduces noise and improved responsiveness.

He adds that RED technology also monitors and controls key components, such as the engine and clutch. It defines three performance modes controlled by a rocker switch. An operator can choose Max Mode for demanding conditions, Efficient Mode to maintain steady power at reduced RPMs useful for normal mowing conditions or Low Mode for mowing in wet or lush grass.

Finally, Red technology monitors engine temperatures and oil pressure, providing visual warnings of critical operating systems. The technology places the machine in safe transport mode, disengaging the clutch and setting RPMs at 2,500, when critical thresholds are exceeded.

It also extends clutch life by matching engine speed at optimum clutch engagement and disengagement points.

RED-equipped EFI with E-Governor is available on Lazer Z X-Series mowers with Kohler Big Block engines.

Propane's popularity

Exmark and more than a dozen other mowing manufacturers are now also offering propane-powered mowers. This is one of the fastest growing trends in commercial mowing. Experienced operators know propane's advantages offers over gasoline, so as a brief recap propane, which is defined as a "Green Alternative Fuel" by the Energy Policy Act of 1992:

  • Offers the potential for reduced fuel costs compared to gasoline.
  • Is cleaner burning and has fewer combustion by-products as compared to gasoline, with adopters claiming that it extends engine life.
  • Deters theft of fuel by employees or others.
  • Reduces fuel loss due to spillage.
  • Will not contaminate the soil or groundwater in the event of a fuel spill.

And, concerning the subject of alternative fuels, clean-burning diesel has its own set of advantages as a commercial mowing fuel. Grasshopper mower, one of the best-known manufacturers of diesel-powered mowers, points out the diesel fuel has more than 50 percent more power than propane per gallon equivalent and it also emits lower levels of carbon monoxide and certain greenhouse gasses than propane or gasoline engines.

Cleaner fuel processing and engine technologies have put clean diesel on par with or superior to other commercially viable fuels today, says Grasshopper. Another point to consider is the availability of diesel fuel at most service stations versus the special handling and certification requirements of filling propane.

Electric power

Several years ago Hustler introduced its Zeon electric mower with 42-inch side-discharge mulching deck. The company says the 48-volt, hydro-gear unit can mow an acre on a single charge. The Zeon is more than 30 percent quieter and much less expensive to operate than gasoline, diesel or propane mowers, making it an attractive choice for select small sites where noise and/or emissions may be an issue. But, obviously, it's not a mower a company would choose for heavy day-after-day production.

The newest entry into the electric mowing market is Mean Green Products LLC with its Mean Green mowers. The Ohio-based company offers a WBX-33 walk-behind model for contractors that mow small yards, and commercial riders with 52- or 60-inch decks for larger properties. The mowers are powered by quick-change lithium battery modules, allowing all-day mowing.

"Both the Mean Green WBX wide-area walk-behind and the CXR zero-turn mowers are now capable of up to four hours of continuous mowing mow times," says the company. "Add to that, the easy one-minute Lithium Energy Module (LEM) exchange and our commercial mowers are easily considered all-day mowers."

Strathmore Landscape, Montreal, Canada, ordered several Mean Green mowers this spring and will be conducting a pilot project on 5- to 10-acre sites this summer. The company hopes to incorporate electric mowing into its Zero-Emission Team services. Turf magazine will report on what Strathmore Landscape learns about using electric mowers on commercial properties as the company's results become available.

Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine. Contact Ron at rhall@mooserivermedia.com. Additional reporting by freelance writers Gary Burchfield, Lincoln, Neb., and Mike Ingles, Columbus, Ohio.