When the University of Louisville signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2008, reducing greenhouse gas emissions became a campuswide priority. It’s a pledge of allegiance of sorts to sustainability shared by cities and counties across the country.
Since then, the university has implemented various initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint: a local food program and farmers market and LEED-certified construction program. It’s become the most bike-friendly campus in Kentucky.
The Grounds Services Department got on board in 2011 by using a different fuel to power 11 commercial-grade mowers.“We needed to spend money wisely while also meeting emissions reductions requirements,” says assistant director of maintenance and renovations Aaron Boggs. “After considerable research, I realized propane was our best option.”
When new units are not an option
Solar- and battery-powered mower technology wasn’t evolved enough and posed logistical challenges, including a lack of sunlight and battery storage. Tier 4 emissions requirements deterred Boggs and his team from diesel.
“Although very few crew members had experience with propane, it was the best alternative fuel for our mower fleet,” Boggs says. “We’d get the same productivity and power as gasoline but spend less, and please the school’s administration and state taxpayers.”
Initially, Boggs mistakenly believed that cylinders would be exchanged before all the propane was utilized, which would be wasteful. Other factors influenced his decision as well. Propane:
- doesn’t have the maintenance issues associated with ethanol, which contains corrosive metals that can damage an engine over time;
- is a closed fuel source, which virtually eliminates spills. EPA estimates more than 17 million gallons of gasoline is spilled while refueling lawn equipment each year, contaminating the environment with more than 150 chemicals, including benzene, toluene, xylene, and, sometimes, lead;
- is American-made.
“Our mowers were fairly new and in good condition, and with budget cuts, purchasing a new fleet wasn’t a possibility,” Boggs says. “I also talked with our mechanic to get his input from a maintenance perspective. Once he signed off, I was convinced.”
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