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Sustainable Lawn Mowing?

by Keith Loven

As I hauled my elderly petrol-powered rotary mower out of the shed at the weekend and yanked on the starting cord to produce the usual deafening clatter and cloud of smoke, it occurred to me that the time has come to consider the electric alternatives. I recently invested in an electric chainsaw and an electric hedge-trimmer that share the same 36V battery and was very happy to say goodbye to the petrol-powered ones, so why not consider this for the mowing as well?

I was reminded of grass-cutting at my parents’ home in the 1960s. My father had invested in an Atco battery-driven cylinder mower. It had a 12V lead-acid car battery mounted on it which was charged using the sort of charger that everyone seemed to have had in those days for keeping car batteries charged.

My recollection was that I was able to cut a sizeable patch of grass on one charge, with little noise and no fumes. So why has it taken fifty-odd years for electric mowers to become a practical alternative to petrol power (apart from mains-powered mowers trailing easily-mowable cables!)?

The answer is, of course, that in the ‘sixties and for many years after, investment in petrol engines and their fuel meant that there was no incentive to improve the alternatives. Lead-acid batteries were heavy, held a limited charge and were relatively slow to recharge. They also had a limited life. Why put up with these inconveniences when petrol mowers were available?

The pressure to develop new battery technologies probably didn’t come from the gardening community, but the development of lithium ion batteries has at last given us the opportunity to retire our petrol-powered tools. Now that petrol isn’t the solution to everything that it might have seemed in the 1960s, there is an incentive for the development of improved power-storage technology. Will the world look back from fifty years hence and be amazed that we thought lithium ion batteries were the solution? Or will the idea of mowing lawns be regarded as laughable?

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