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McClatchy Newspapers (MCT) - The world's first natural-gas-powered lawnmower is ready to roll,

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Highlights

By Steve Everly
McClatchy Newspapers (www.mctdirect.com)
4/23/2009 (1 decade ago)

Published in Home & Food

The Dixie Chopper Eco-Eagle made its debut this week in Orlando at the Alternative Fuels & Vehicles National Conference, a gasoline-free gathering of the latest innovations in cars and trucks.

And one lawnmower.

The Eco-Eagle is meant for commercial use, cutting 5 ˝-foot-wide swaths of grass at eight acres an hour. Most Dixie Chopper models use gasoline or diesel. But the company has a budding alternative-fuel reputation and sells the first propane-powered commercial mower.

Dixie Chopper burnished that reputation with the unveiling here of the natural-gas-fueled Eco-Eagle. But the company isn't taking credit for deciding to build the mower. The give the credit to a Kansas City, Mo., official.

"Sam was the inspiration," said Mitch Wallace, a government fleet representative for Dixie Chopper.

That would be Sam Swearngin, acting fleet administrator for the city of Kansas City, which also is known for alternative fuel use and placed third among U.S. municipalities in one ranking.

"Every vehicle the city has uses some form of alternative fuel, be it electric, natural gas, biodiesel or ethanol (blends)," he said.

Swearngin was on a panel at the conference in Orlando, sharing the city's decade or so of alternative-fuel experience. The city increasingly has been using compressed natural gas, which now powers about 10 percent of the city's 225-vehicle fleet.

When Swearngin saw Dixie Chopper's propane-fueled model, he urged the company to build one that runs on natural gas. Propane sometimes is made from oil, most of which is imported, so he thought why not just use natural gas, which in the U.S. comes mainly from domestic sources. In addition, Kansas City and other municipalities have the necessary natural-gas filling stations.

Not surprisingly, Swearngin is ready to place an order for a half-dozen Eco-Eagle mowers, which will be used on the city's parks and other properties. Another advantage for the city will be mowing even when a smog alerts shuts down gasoline mowers.

Dixie Chopper mowers are made in Indiana and are bought mainly by governments and commercial-mowing companies _ although an occasional homeowner with a big yard and deep pockets will order one. They start at $4,000 and go up to $10,000 for deluxe models. The compressed-natural-gas version adds an additional $5,000 to the deluxe price.

The mowers have dimensions that rival some cars _ but only one seat _ and luxuries that start and end with a sun canopy and a place to plug in an iPod. Its necessities include two large tanks that hold enough natural gas to run the mower for up to 7 ˝ hours.

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The mower has gotten considerable buzz at the Orlando conference. At an opening parade, the mower took its place in a line of vehicles that included a hydrogen-powered bus and electric cars.

Company officials were worried that the mowers would seem like a novelty, but by the conference's second day, they had several orders in hand.

"I'm feeling better," said Rick Judy, marketing manager for Dixie Chopper. "This trip was well worth it."

Electric mowers have a niche in the consumer market, and gasoline lawnmowers are becoming more environmentally friendly as federal regulations take effect.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said further improvements were eagerly awaited because a lawnmower running for an hour released as much pollution as eight new cars running at 55 mile per hour for the same amount of time.

Is there a future for natural-gas mowers? The question was put to T. Boone Pickens, who was at the conference touting his plan to use more natural gas in heavy-duty trucks and cars.

"It it's American, I'm for it," he said about the unconventional mower.

___

The Dixie Chopper Eco-Eagle

Width: 6 feet

Length: 7 feet

Cut: 5 ˝ feet wide

Price: $15,000

Fuel: Compressed natural gas.

Pollution: A small fraction of a gasoline-powered mower.

___

© 2009, The Kansas City Star.

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