Propane helps turn garden gear green

Los Angeles company introduces what may be world's first line of gardening equipment that runs entirely on propane, which is cleaner than gasoline, but still fossil-fuel based.

Los Angeles-based Lehr is introducing what it says is the world's first line of lawn and garden equipment that runs entirely on propane.

The idea is to replace toxic gasoline with the cleaner fuel. However, the new product lines' eco-friendliness is limited by the fact that the propane found in stores is still fossil-fuel based.

Lehr

First out is Lehr's Eco Trimmer, which has just hit major retailers. It is a big machine weighing around 15 pounds, depending on shaft type. It retails for $199. Its propane canister has the same "Twist 'n Go" fueling that's used in camping stoves and barbecues. One canister, which is 100 percent recyclable when empty, offers two hours of run time under normal circumstances and costs about $3.

The EcoTrimmer emits 97 percent fewer particulates than gasoline-based trimmers, according to the company's home page.

"It is cheaper and better for the environment. It also produces 96 percent less carcinogens," company CEO and founder Bernardo Herzer tells CNET News.

Many people are unaware of the health risks of fumes coming from their gasoline mower, Herzer says. "If you ever smell them, you are breathing them," he says, adding that the pipe is so close to your mouth--something you would not accept in a car, for instance.

Lehr garden gear uses a 16.4-ounce propane canister. Lehr

The commercial sea captain-turned-entrepreneur got the idea for his business after converting gasoline engines to run on propane aboard the research vessel Sea Surveyor, at work in the North Sea.

When it comes to impact on the environment, garden tools might seem diminutive compared with, say, cars. But a gasoline-powered lawn mower pollutes as much in one hour as driving an automobile 20 miles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

More than 12 million trimmers, chainsaws, and leaf blowers are sold each year, according to the EPA. Replacing the gasoline with propane could also reduce the fuel spillage. The agency estimates that the few ounces spilled during each refueling of lawn and garden equipment adds up to 17 million gallons of gasoline nationwide every year. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled the equivalent of 11 million gallons in its infamous oil catastrophe in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989, according to the EPA.

The EPA has therefore finalized a new emission-control program to reduce hydrocarbon emissions from small spark-ignition engines by about 35 percent depending on engine size from 2011. The Lehr Eco Trimmer already meets and exceeds those regulations, according to the company.

But while the trimmer is a cleaner choice than gasoline, the propane available at stores today is derived from fossil gas that will cause greenhouse-gas emissions as byproducts after the combustion.

"I am not saying is that this is the ultimate solution. This is absolutely a step in the right direction," Herzer says. "For somebody that is looking for an alternative that is working today, this is a viable alternative."

For the green-conscious, another clean option is electric trimmers, but they don't have the same capacity, Herzer claims.

"You cannot compare apples to oranges. I am not familiar with an electric trimmer that would do the job of an internal combustion engine."

Undisputably, the greenest choice is a manual lawn trimmer that also delivers the health benefit of giving you more exercise while cutting the grass. And with this option, the capacity and run time are up to you.

Lehr plans to release an Eco Blower and a gas-free mower in the fall.

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About the author

    Erik Palm, a business reporter for Swedish national television, is joining CNET News as a spring 2009 fellow with Stanford University's Innovation Journalism program. When he's not working, he enjoys kayaking and exploring California's hiking trails. E-mail Erik.

     

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