Lawnmowers: Stop polluting

As some of you know, I am in the business of emissions control. My company is developing a cool new materials based technology that would not only make emissions control more affordable, but also more effective. No, this is not a plug for GEO2 Technologies, but as a lead into an issue which has grabbed the headlines in the environmental press, and is probably going to affect many consumers. EPA has been fighting a good fight to control emissions from the small off-road engines, such as lawnmowers, weed-wackers, leaf-blowers etc, for the past several years. According to NY Times “Gallon for gallon…the 2006 lawn mower engines contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars….” (Note: Six million new combustion-engine lawn mowers are now sold each year in the US). Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, whose home state has two factories of Briggs and Stratton, largest US small engine manufacturer, continued to place one impediment after another in the way of legislation (2003 and 2005) – eventually arguing that catalytic converters on small engines would get hot, burn the operator, and are hence dangerous. Well – the report is out and an EPA safety study was also verified by the National Academy of Sciences: both found that the catalytic converters are safe, and that it is time for small engines to clean up their act.

lawnmower.gifPractically speaking, this means that now most small engines would be required to have emission control systems – from non-leaking fuel lines to close-cranked ventilation and catalytic converters. The consumer would obviously see a rise in prices of such products, but the environmental advantage would far outweigh the potential cost increase. I hope now that the battle has been won by the environmental groups (Sen. Bond has backed down and EPA is finalizing the legislation), the small engine manufacturers would come forward and take the lead in engineering the best possible solutions. Honda, Kawasaki, Tecumseh and Kohler back the new legislation already and I hope Briggs and Stratton would also turn the corner on this one. Their counterparts in the automotive industry did so 30 or so years ago and the world is a much cleaner place because of their efforts. Lawnmowers next!

The problem
•Americans have about 52 millions lawn mowers, which spew a cloud of chemical, smog-friendly pollutants and carbon monoxide.
•A new walk-behind mower can emit as much pollution in one hour as 11 new cars. A new riding mower can match the pollution from 34 new cars.
A solution?
•New rules propose equipping mowers with catalytic converters, which draw out the pollutants and turn them to carbon dioxide and water. This would reduce exhaust emissions by as much as 80 percent.

EPA website on small engines:


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