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The Next Generation of Lawn Equipment: Solar Battery Engines

70-year old Tom Lopez of Colorado invented solar battery-powered lawn equipment that may be commercially available in the near future. Lopez, who studied Aerospace Engineering at Boulder University, hopes to take his creation to the manufacturing stage after a few prototypes have flown out the door, a Reporter Herald article said.

It all started when the engine of Lopez’s old riding lawn mower began to fail. He replaced it with a solar electric engine, added six batteries and then PV panels to charge the batteries. Lopez said there is a misconception that his creations run on solar, which is inaccurate - the panels only provide the charge.

Lopez’s inventions range in size from riding lawnmowers to landscaping types of tractors. For cloudy days, the vehicles are fitted with a converter for 110-V standard outlets to charge the batteries while resting in the garage. And with an electric engine, the ceaseless roar that goes hand-in-hand with the smell of freshly cut grass is gone. Not a bad selling point.

It’s great that this type of invention is going to make it to production. These machines could save a lot of pollution from farm equipment worldwide. And if the electric motors can hold up while still producing adequate horsepower, well, Mr. Lopez, you are going to become a very rich man.

Batteries, however, don’t last forever and at $100 or more per battery, it could become prohibitive for the average consumer. Batteries can be kept alive longer with some rather intensive care (and make sure you know how do it, boiling batteries can be dangerous), but if they start to flake out, they’ll need replacing. Unfortunately, batteries aren’t the most eco-friendly thing in the world. Sulphuric acid, the liquid in a standard lead cell battery, isn’t pleasant on the skin either.

As a note, these are not the only electric-powered farm equipment in the nation, but they seem to be the only one that is going to production. In Garberville, CA, at the town’s community farm, a resident farmer retrofitted a few of the aging tractors to run on electricity. I’m not sure if they are hung with PV panels like Lopez’s, though. Either way, an electric tractor with an electric powerplant? Genius!

Just think what could happen if PV cells become vastly more efficient and take over other modes of transportation…

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