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Chicago Area Clean Cities, Forest Preserves of Cook County to Showcase Success of Alt-Fuel Lawn Mowers

Jul 20, 2016

Workshop to highlight FPCC’s conversion of mowers, vehicles to propane power


The Chicago Area Clean Cities Coalition and the Forest Preserves of Cook County will host Picnic in the Park – a Workshop on Propane Vehicles and Mowers – at Sagawau Environmental Learning Center on Thursday, Aug. 4.


At the workshop, the Forest Preserves will highlight how it converted 32 gasoline-fueled large riding rotary mowers, as well as future plans to convert an additional 19 vehicles, pending a grant application to be accepted for the conversion to propane power. The conversion of the vehicles is a part of an ongoing effort to make the Forest Preserves’ operations as green and economical as possible.


“The Forest Preserves of Cook County is the largest forest preserve system in the nation,” said Tom Thompson, maintenance supervisor for the Forest Preserves of Cook County. “By converting our fleet to propane powered mowers, we have been successful in making them both environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient. This is a benefit to our community, the environment and a value to taxpayers.”


Most people already think of the Forest Preserves as being green. The Preserves’ nearly 70,000 acres account for the largest forest preserve district in the United States. However, maintaining all that green space requires a lot of vehicles and fuel. To mow the landscape areas in and around picnic groves and other recreational public spaces, the agency maintains a fleet of approximately 41 large riding rotary mowers (32 of which are now propane-fueled), 90 large tractors with flail mower attachments, 55 push mowers and 100 line trimmers, all in heavy use from April through October.

In 2013, the Forest Preserves began the conversion of its Gravely Pro-Turn 472 mowers to propane power, which has significantly lowered the environmental impact of its grove maintenance.


Shifting to propane has both environmental and economic benefits. Propane, also known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), comes from both the refining of crude oil and processing of natural gas. It is nontoxic and water insoluble, making it much less likely to contaminate soil and water than gasoline. Unlike gasoline, propane is a liquid only when under high pressure (as in a tank), so any leaks evaporate and dissipate, preventing fuel from entering ground or surface water. Propane also burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 25 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent, as well as reducing emissions of other air pollutants.


“Propane has a high octane rating, making it an excellent choice for spark-ignited internal combustion engines,” said John Walton, vice chairman of Chicago Area Clean Cities and formerly the fleet manager for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. “It is a clean-burning, reliable domestic fuel that provides excellent performance in light-duty and medium-duty vehicles, as well as riding mowers like those used by the Forest Preserves.”


The fuel switch also has saved the Forest Preserves money. By converting to propane from unleaded gas in 32 mowers, the Forest Preserves has saved approximately $1.00 per gallon. The use of propane also extends engine life and reduces refueling time in the field. A federal conversion incentive cut the cost of conversion by $1,000 per mower, making each new mower $826 to convert.


To fuel the mowers, the Forest Preserves constructed 11 propane-fueling stations. The propane supplier, AmeriGas, paid for the entire cost of the propane tanks and related equipment.


The move towards propane in the Forest Preserves’ fleet has taken place in phases. The district has been using biodiesel fuel in all its diesel vehicles for more than 10 years and has been studying the costs and benefits of adding additional fuel-efficient vehicles.


The workshop will be held Aug. 4 at Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, 12545 W. 111th St. Lemont, IL 60439. Representatives from Clean Cities, AmeriGas, and STAG Alternative Fuel Solutions will be available to demonstrate and showcase the benefits of using clean-burning propane fuel. To register, go to:

Visit two of the treasures of the Forest Preserves of Cook County