Yale trades out gas- and diesel-fueled equipment for electric models

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Facilities grounds staff test the performance of electric mowers on campus.

Photo: Mark McCloud
Facilities grounds staff test the performance of electric mowers on campus. Photo: Mark McCloudFacilities grounds staff test the performance of electric mowers on campus.
Photo: Mark McCloud

In an effort to improve air quality, reduce noise pollution and help Yale achieve its greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitment, Yale Landscape and Grounds Management is replacing its gas-fueled and diesel-fueled equipment.

The initiative began earlier this year when Dev Hawley, director at University Planning and Facilities Operations, began researching electric alternatives to gas backpack blowers. He said that while he did think the gas blowers were effective, they are loud and emit environmentally harmful fumes.

“Electric not only helps from an emissions point of view, but it also helps with noise because the electric equipment is generally a lot quieter,” Hawley told Yale Sustainability. “We’re in a learning environment where we don’t really need a leaf blower or lawn mower creating lots of noise right outside of the classroom.”

The university believes that by cutting back on the noise and reducing localized emissions, the grounds staff will also benefit from a healthier working environment.

According to Hawley and Paul Catalano, director of Grounds Maintenance, Yale has over 30 backpack blowers, a large quantity of augers, tractor lawn mowers, push lawn mowers, handheld blowers, hedge trimmers, leaf vacuums, string trimmers, chainsaws and sweepers.

Yale also hires contractors to help maintain its over 1,000 acres of property, which means that any electric equipment that Yale replaces will also need to be replaced by the contractors.

The price and performance of the equipment was examined when looking into alternatives, and the following questions were considered: Does the lawn mower cut as fast and collect the grass as well? Does the electric blower blow the leaves when the leaves are wet?

The market for electric grounds equipment is currently in a state of development and transition, but without any major performance compromise they were able to find replacements for almost half of their inventory including push mowers, chainsaws, handheld blowers, string trimmers and hedge mowers.

However, when it came to the backpack blowers, they were not quite convinced that the electric alternatives would have the right amount of power to perform the job efficiently.

In the end, they decided to replace half of the backpack blowers with electric alternatives to test their performances this fall. Hawley is confident that the equipment will measure up and enable them to replace the remaining supply next year.

One issue that comes with the electric alternatives is a battery pack. For the equipment to last for a day’s worth of work, the batteries need to be charged midway. Yale will install a battery station at the main Grounds Management office to account for this need. This station will have enough batteries to act as replacements throughout the day.

This initiative is part of Yale’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact and lower its carbon footprint. Yale says this supports its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and they hope to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Yale also needed to replace 20 fleet vehicles as part of a Vehicle Replacement Program for 2017. After researching the alternatives, they were able to replace 13 with hybrid models that would take advantage of a propane fueling station installed at 344 Winchester this past summer.

“That again is sending the message that Yale Facilities is going to drive as a priority—a much more sustainable solution to everything we do, and we’re really taking it from trucks all the way down to the string trimmer,” Hawley told Yale Sustainability.

Yale says the new grounds equipment will be up and running by the end of this calendar year, and they will continue to research alternatives for the remaining equipment and expects to make more progress in the coming years.

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