The folks at Lehr say they have a better idea for many of your home machines: lawn mower, wire trimmer (turns out "weed whacker" is a copyrighted name for Kenmore;s wire trimmer), leaf blowers, etc. Lehr is going to be selling those items powered with propane rather than gasoline. So I spoke on the phone with Lehr's founder and CEO, Bernardo Herzer. And why does Lehr see propane as a major improvement over current two-stroke gasoline engines for these small motors?
Herzer explained the problems with current gas engine technology. First, those engines all leak gasoline. Not to mention all the gas that leaks from home storage containers, plus the spills and evaporation when gasoline is poured. Herzer says about 17-million gallons of gasoline are spilled annually in North America. Many of the chemicals like benzene that go to form gasoline are not only atmosphere killers, their cancer-causing killers as well. You can't breath propane but it doesn't damage the atmosphere even if it were to leak. Unlike gasoline which comes in messy liquid form, the propane wants to be a gas and comes in cannisters that are largely problem free. No pouring, no evaporation. Propane, Herzer points out, has an almost indefinite shelf life as long as it's in the cannister. Propane has almost zero evaporation emissions. Gasoline disintegrates, literally. It loses some of its components and really has only a 45-day shelf life as a high-grade fuel. All that stuff in gasoline ends up in our atmosphere, or ground water--health hazards and ozone killers.
Secondly, propane burns much cleaner than gasoline. 97% less particulates than gasoline emissions, says Herzer. A miniscule amount of toxic emissions which is why propane can be burned inside on stoves and other equipment. Would you want a gasoline engine burning in your house?
Thirdly, the supply of propane is domestic in North America. Much of the propane that comes from the ground now is bled off to get to crude oil. With a larger propane market it could be captured and used. In addition propane is a component of natural gas. We wouldn't be bringing shiploads of liquid propane in from the Mideast or Venezuela.
Finally you don't have the carburetor, spark plug, and fuel line problems with propane that always plague gas motors.
Lehr's propane-powered products will begin to roll out in 2009. First come the wire trimmers. Here's the list of Lehr retailers.
CEO Herzer got the idea from a fleet of oceanographic research ships he owns. On those ships his firm had converted the small engines to propane-burning. It saved money and reduced emission problems on deck and inside the ship. Then he got to thinking about all those weed trimmers and lawn mowers that also run on primitive two-stroke engines.
Herzer was very clear that he sees the move to propane as an incremental improvement over gasoline-powered machinery around the house and garden. He says Lehr is dedicated to constantly improving technology and become ever-more environmentally friendly in its products. Propane may not be the best answer long-term but it's sure better than that old-fashioned gas-mixed-with-oil-burning, smoke-belching lawnmower you may own now. Even better, the new equipment from Lehr will use cannisters of propane already sold in hardware and outdoors stores across the continent. So fuel delivery is already in place.