Wind, wave, solar, LPG, CNG, Bio fuel, electric, hybrid are all great options (well nearly all), but realistically and more importantly, what are the cost effective alternatives for our industry? It’s probably a combination of the above depending on the task so let’s take a look at some of the alternatives for our vehicle and machinery fleet.
Wind turbines and solar panels are pretty much accepted as part of our landscape now, but they’re not so practical when powering a van or ride-on mower. Vehicle manufacturers have spent years giving us various alternatives to plain petrol and diesel, but there is still no universally viable single fuel alternative. LPG proved unreliable and lacks infrastructure, electric is initially expensive and is impractical for larger vehicles. To date the most viable option is the hybrid engine which gives the best of both worlds. This option is only currently available in the car market, most notably in the Toyota Prius which led the way but closely followed by larger offerings from Peugeot and Volvo. But where are the hybrid commercial vehicles?
There are a few options if you are looking for an electric utility truck or ATV but there’s nothing suitable to transport staff and equipment (well nothing which is cost effective for our industry). It could be argued that with Euro 5 engines and the imminent introduction of Euro 6 in 3500kg vehicles this is good enough, but what if there were a hybrid version which could run on electricity in parks or around housing and then use diesel power on longer runs? This could be the best of both technologies for the local and wider environment.
Hybrid mowers shouldn’t be limited to the golf course
Things get more difficult with machinery, mainly due to the size of the equipment we use and the additional weight and bulk alternative fuels add. LPG has been tried and tested with mixed results but is not a viable alternative. Electric hybrid technology is available on golf course machines where the diesel engine is connected to a generator which powers electric motors that drive the cutting cylinders. This technology is not new; the quarrying industry has used it for decades in huge dump trucks which have a diesel engine connected to a generator which powers wheel motors driving the machine. This is a bit too heavy duty for grass cutting but the technology is the same.
Similarly, trailed mowers have been built for the turf industry where the tractor PTO drives a generator which in turn powers individual motors connected directly to cutting blades – no belts or drive shafts and limited hydraulic components. This makes an altogether simpler machine, although for the sake of not lighting up the operator, the 400 volt output would need to be reduced.
The continuing development of Lithium batteries makes them an effective power source for hedge cutters, strimmers, blowers and chainsaws. Batteries are carried on the operator’s back or belt or as an integral part of the machine. Whilst charging these units generally still relies on a 13 amp socket and ultimately a power station, French manufacturer Pellenc can supply a solar power station which makes the machines 100% green (this does however rely on the British weather playing its part).
The latest generation of electric machines can be powered by the sun!
Looking for environmentally acceptable alternatives shouldn’t be limited to one technology as a combination can give greater performance and better economic sense. Engine manufacturers are under pressure to develop cleaner power units which will undoubtedly limit their range of engine sizes. This could lead to machinery manufacturers limiting their range of machinery but offering a range of base power platforms designed for multi applications which use hybrid power transmission, giving the possibility of operating a range of plug-in cutting and maintenance units – a bit like a tractor.
Group Head of Assets and Fleet