One East Tennessee man says the gas that powers your grill should be used to power your lawnmower.
Jim Coker, who grew up in the Farragut area and now lives in Dandridge, helped patent the first propane-powered commercial lawnmower with his business partner back in 1996.
Through his former company, Onyx Environmental Solutions, Coker began taking his message of cleaner, cheaper, safer fuel to companies across the country.
"Six years ago, I went to every manufacturer, gave them my spiel, 'we all should be looking at reducing foreign oil, should be going environmentally friendly,'" he said. "They could've cared less."
But times have changed.
Coker teamed up with Heritage Propane, heading up an off-shoot program called Metro Lawn, which aims to help businesses with the gas-to-propane transition.
Now, Coker says ten manufacturers across the country are making propane-powered commercial lawnmowers, and some, including the Lehr company, are dipping into the residential market, producing a push mower, blower and weedeater powered by small propane tanks typically used for camping.
"I think the reason, this is a small fish in the bucket, but it is a big fish, but this one fish can do a lot, it's a matter of us getting that message out and getting more people to realize that these mowers are big polluters, they are big users of fuel, and there is an easy transition, and that's what I hope to bring to this country, and that's why I travel around the country, trying to educate people on this," Coker said.
He already has a convert in Knoxville.
Common Grounds Landscape Management is about a third of the way through converting all of its commercial mowers to propane. John Watson, who co-owns the company with his wife, expects to finish up within the next two years.
"We've been the green industry since before it was the green industry. I mean, we work in this environment. We're outdoors, we want to protect where we work," Watson said. "It's a cleaner fuel, it was the right thing to do for us as a company, both for our people and the environment and our customers, and it also made economic sense."
Watson took part in a University of Tennessee study related to the propane-powered lawnmowers about two years ago, and he was hooked.
With the help of Heritage Propane, Common Grounds began converting its equipment.
Each commercial mower costs about $1,000 to transition from gas to propane, but Coker says that money should be made up for in about two years. After that, costs will go down because the same amount of fuel is used, but propane is cheaper.
Watson said he had some other up-front costs, but he's convinced propane is the way to go. He also enjoys fueling up on-site. Heritage provided a large fueling tank and several smaller tanks that attach to the mowers. Everything is right at business headquarters.
"You don't have any spillage, it's clean, you don't carry it off, we fill it here, we don't have to go to the gas station, we don't have to spend gas to get gas, so that makes a lot of sense, and it's just the right thing to do, and the guys like it," Watson said.
David Hodges, account manager for Common Grounds, is a fan of the propane fuel, too, and doesn't even mind the jokes.
"We get a lot of questions, like a lot of jokes right now about hot dogs and hamburgers," he said. "When a cell phone first came out, everybody thought they were unnecessary, now everybody has one. Then when a Blackberry came out, everybody said, 'that's too complicated, I can't push all those buttons,' now everybody has one. I think, in time, you'll see a lot of people convert to them."
But what about the questions of safety?
"I get that all the time, and I ask them, 'which would you rather cook with - gasoline or propane,'" Coker said. "Can't cook with gasoline. It's too flammable. Actually, propane is safer than gasoline."
Next up, Coker plans to target golf courses, and he's already working with ROUSH to develop propane-powered trucks and vehicles.