The Electric Farmer: Updated
A while ago I put a series together for Home Power Magazine on electric lawn and garden tool options for everything from maintaining your small suburban lot, to full-scale farm use. Mother Earth News has picked up the story and updated it, and I wanted to share – especially the part about the EV tractors that, once a DIY project by necessity, are now becoming widely commercially available.
Check out the story for the details on the products currently (ouch) available, here: Electric Lawn Equipment: Take Charge of Your Yard, where we list everything from lithium-powered chainsaws and mowers to beast-mode log splitters and tractors. I had the chance to try out one of the saws as well – much to the detriment of the local 3′ diameter neighborhood oak tree:
“I tested Oregon’s 40-volt MAX cordless chainsaw, part of the company’s line of PowerNow lithium-ion battery-powered tools. The saw runs a 14-inch bar and weighs 11 pounds. On a single charge, the company says the battery pack will last long enough to cut up to 250 branches measuring 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
I put the Oregon chainsaw to the test on a 3-foot-diameter oak tree. Cutting without the ear-splitting whine and stench of a gasoline-powered chainsaw was a joy. I went through two battery packs and, as is typical with lithium-ion batteries, they barely slowed down until the charge was completely used up.
This Oregon saw is probably too heavy for rope or climbing work, and is not “professional” grade, but it’s perfect for occasional homeowner tasks.”
But yes. Tractors.
Full disclosure, an electric conversion lawn tractor was one of my several conversion projects. See this?
This is what’s under that hood:
Tractors are an almost perfect platform for electric power. They like weight – using lead batteries, even flooded lead acid batteries is an advantage when you’re trying to lend traction to the rear wheels. Think the logic behind electric fork-trucks here, for reference. Tractors are typically run for short periods of time – the longest runs are for cutting or plowing fields, at the most a few hours for small farms and gardens. Many tractors are simply put into service for moving loads around, with needed ranges of only a fraction of a mile before they are done for the day. Thus, the Sun-Horse shown above, with a small solar-charging panel as a roof. When the vehicle sits in the field for the better part of a week, you can afford to do a slow solar charge on it to keep it topped up.
For the suburban lot, companies like Cub are offering “off the shelf” options like this:
Besides the practicality of a EV powered tractor, there’s the noise and exhaust. Here’s a little video of the Sun Horse with a deck mower attached:
There’s more to the equation too. Small gas engines are some of the worst offenders in contributing to air pollution, since they’re largely unregulated. The numbers of discarded lawn tractors with blown motors per year, some literally by the side of the road, is staggering. If you’re interested in a conversion, you can quite literally find a donor tractor for free. Motenergy (the PMDC motor manufacturer I used in my conversion) has developed the ME1004, a 48V motor specifically matched to lawn tractor specifications, for this very reason.
How many times have you waited in line at the gas station watching some landscaping guy fills up a half-dozen power tools with gas? I often wonder what the guy would say if you offered him an option to charge up all his tools at night, for pennies, or even better, with an off-grid solar charger, no gas, no ear protection, and no fumes to inhale.
And log splitters. If you think electric log splitters are lame, take a look (and listen) at this one in action:
What’s really funny is how some of those videos you’ll find are actually filmed with the splitter running inside the woodshed. Where it’s warm, dry, and out of the wind. Try that with a gas-powered splitter. Or better yet, please don’t.
It’s encouraging to see, every year, a few more products at the local retail stores for electric-powered tools that are serious options for replacing gas. And it’s kind of amusing. For every summer that I mow the lawn with my lithium-powered cordless mower, the rationale behind servicing, starting, maintaining, storing, hearing, smelling and running a gas-powered mower just seem more and more ridiculous.