Briggs & Stratton & lawn mower smog

by Caroline Brown

An interesting article in today's New York Times discusses the efforts of a small engine manufacturer and their Congressional patron to keep from having to make changes to lawn mower engines that will decrease air pollution. This link allows you to read the article without registering–it's the same article reprinted in a Gainesville, Fla. newspaper.

According to the article:

the 2006 lawn mower engines contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars, according to the California Air Resources Board. In California, lawn mowers provided more than 2 percent of the smog-forming pollution from all engines.

The EPA has been after small engine manufacturers to add catalytic converters to lawn more engines for some time now. Catalytic converters decrease the amount of smog and carbon monoxide released from engines and are now required on all cars sold in the U.S.–a requirement that was years in the making because of resistance from Detroit automakers.

Being the ground-breaking state that they are, California said "no more." Tired of waiting for the EPA, California passed its own regulation that would tighten small engine emission requirements and would eliminate 22 tons of smog-forming chemicals from California skies DAILY. This would almost certainly require lawn more engines to be equipped with catalytic converters. But B&S (BS!) says that catalytic converters will reduce their profits are unsafe:

Briggs and some other American equipment makers argue that the converters would add a dangerous amount of heat to already hot engines, creating a fire hazard. They point out that these machines are used or left standing amid dry brush or newspaper and other flammable garage debris.

Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) is the BS go-to boy in the Senate. Missouri is home to lots of donations to his re-election campaign two BS factories. Sen. Bond says that forcing BS to add catalytic converters to their lawn mower engines will result in less money for BS executives tremendous job losses in his state.

Sorry, I'm getting carried away. Read the rest of the article to learn about the fight between Sen. Bond & CA Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the EPA and the California Air Resources Board. Then, ditch your lawn mower if it has a BS engine. I hear there are companies (Honda maybe?) that have more earth-friendly gas-powered lawn mowers. But for my money, if ya gotta mow your lawn, ditch the gas mower all together. Electric mowers seem to work fine on larger lawns; for small lawns you can buy a human-powered reel mower (see photo, courtesy of Clean Air Gardening).


20 Comments to “Briggs & Stratton & lawn mower smog”

  1. Hi Caroline, Thanks for the post, good points you bring up. We actually have a manual pushmower for our yard, always have. Good exercise and no pollution.

    Have an unrelated ? for you. Can you suggest a good natural sunscreen product to use? I work outdoors in the summer and don’t want to have to use the chemically-loaded sunscreens that are on the market. Thanks if you have a one or two brands to suggest, hopefully avail. online. Stores here are way behind on things like that.

  2. Hi Joe! We actually don’t have a mower…we borrow our neighbor’s electrical mower which works just fine on our very tiny lawn area. But, if I had to buy one, the manuals are the way to go!

    As for sunscreen, I have struggled with this as well. I don’t know how to judge whether something that is marked “natural” or “organic” is really so. My sense is that there is some level of chemicals that is needed to block both UVA & UVB rays. You should check out, they have lots & lots of natural brands. The URL for sunscreens is
    The two brands that I trust that have some products in this category are Jasons Natural & Kiss My Face. But I don’t know if they are really “natural” because I don’t know how that is truly defined.

    Don’t know if that helps any!

  3. This is very helpful, thanks Caroline. Will check the health food stores first for the Jason brand, we use a lot of their products already, fairly good for keeping the junk out of their ingredients. Probably none would be totally ‘natural’ for sunscreens, but at least better than the popular brands…those are all pretty scary !!!


  4. Hi,

    For natural sunscreen, you might want to check out Enviromental Working Group’s study called “Skin Deep.” You can type in the name (brand) of the skin care products you are intersted in, and they show how the product ranks in terms of its naturalness, etc. I found this site to be helpful and very informative.

  5. C&C, thank you for sharing “Skin Deep” with me, I hadn’t heard of it and it’s a great tool! Also, I like your blog. Your photos are fabulous.

  6. Can anyone suggest some eath-friendly self-propelled mower? Is it true that HONDA engine is better?
    I’d love to use push mower, but my yard is close to 1 acre and it’s hilly too.
    Almost impossible to mow it without self-propelled mower or tractor.
    I thought of the electric one, but it will mow only 1/3 acre at a time.
    So I am thinking about self-propelled one… any suggestions?

  7. I read somewhere that Honda was a better, cleaner engine. But now can’t find the reference. I’ll poke around some more and let you know.

  8. Michelle, from what I can find the Honda engine is less polluting than many others. This is because most Honda engines are what’s called Overhead Valve (OHV) engine. OHV apparently are more efficient than Side Valve engines which are what a lot of other manuf. use. Also it isn’t only the Honda brand, there are other brands that use the Honda engines apparently–Craftsman, Lawn-Boy, Yard-Man. Just check to make sure you’re getting an OHV engine.

  9. Thanks for a valuable information, Caroline!! and thanks for taking time to do some research. I am going to buy a mower tomorrow, so now I know what to look for!

  10. Hello!

    For almost seven years we’ve designed and built small equipment desinged to run on biodiesel – including 21″ lawnmowers. I cut my lawn every week with clean fuel made here in our production unit. The mower starts on the first pull and smells great! There are no spark plugs and the engines – by law – must last a minimum of 3000 hours. They must be tested for 1000. Gas small engines must live 100 hours and are tested for 30.

    We demonstrated this technology to Briggs and Stratton in 2002. They’ve passed so far,… And we spoke to Honda a couple weeks back.

    Almost three years ago I had the privledge of delivering a mower to Crawford Texas. Specfically to the Foreman of the Bush Ranch Ken Engelbrecht.

    Mr. Engelbrecht’s only complaint? “This thing is almost too powerful…” We placed a 7hp unit where a 15 – 18 hp gas unit is used.

    Our equipment is fuel direct injected – metered so they run on fractions compared to gas fired units – and biodiesel does not evaporate.

    Please stay tuned as we work our way through the EPA – they recently approved our plans.

    If we change one item in the consumer’s garage (does it have to be the car to begin?) we will change the way our country perceives alternative fuel. When Americans are invited to participate – amazing things get done.

    Thanks for the forum and support of Earth Friendly Gardening.


  11. Hello JP, thanks for letting me know about your biodiesel engine. I’m glad to hear about your biodiesel engine. I was wondering why there weren’t any biodiesel lawn mower alternatives yet! I have some questions, for ex–say that you cut a deal with B&S or Honda and soon there are biodiesel lawn mowers on the market. If I buy one…in Rhode Island, where do I get the fuel? Also….what are the numbers on how much lower the emissions are for BD vs. regular gas lawnmowers?

    Very glad to hear about this alternative. Pls. keep me posted.

  12. Caroline:

    Thanks for the note. Our mowers do not have a fuel tank. They are re-fueled by snapping in a 500ml bottle – exactly what we love to drink water out of! We were forced by EPA regulations to prove that you, the consumer, would not use fossil fuel. Our other ideas were not accepted.

    Our mowers are very efficient. For example, my yard is 7000 square feet. It takes about 100 – 150 mls to cut the entire thing. Our mower when gas equipped used about 1/2 gallon – 2000 mls.

    One 1/2 liter bottle easily cuts my yard 3 times and starts the fourth.

    The “cartridge” has a proprietary cap and the mower a matching receptacle. The EPA agrees that this system would be hard to defeat.

    Since the fuel is non-hazardous and non-flammable it can be shipped like water. So we can distribute from grocery, and any other non-traditional sales point. We plan to sell the cartridges from the ‘net at the start and as mowers pop up we will work to create distribution points.

    As for the emissions:

    We were tested at a Clean Cities Conference. Our gas version had a flat muffler that would not accomodate the sensor. There were dramatic differences – but they were thought inaccurate.

    Mower results:

    Here is a comparison of carpet cleaning apparatus:

    Similar to the mowers – and amazing!

    The ultimate – my Ford Powerstroke – thought to be the nastiest thing rolling was cleaner than a compressed natural gas Dodge Caravan:

    Note the HC (hydrocarbon) and CO2 values.

    Also note the extra O2 – left behind during combustion because unlike fossil, biodiesel is an oxygenated fuel that greatly enhances combustion.

    And most important, not tested here, but well proven in other apps – the use of biodiesel markedly, and based on the percenatage of the blend, reduces the production of carcinogens.

    Our mowers are 100% biodiesel powered.


  13. I really appreciate you passing along this information JP. I’m very interested and have lots more questions. How will the mowers be branded, with your name or B&S or Honda? When will they be available and is the street price much more than a regular gas mower? Also, on your website it says that the zoo used filtered cooking oil to run their mower. Will the new mowers operate on used cooking oil too? If so, am I understanding correctly that there’s no other process you have to do except filter the gunk out of the used oil?

    In your first post, you spoke of the EPA, Honda & B&S as having “approved” your plans. Can you explain what that means exactly? What do they have to approve?

    This is exciting stuff.

  14. 1) No clue on branding – but we like HUGR. We want them to stick with it.

    2) We think that our last hurdles will take thrre more months – so figure 4 -6. Always could be earlier.

    3) Yes they will be more expensive – but we hope to keep them competative with high end units. One of the primary reasons is the blade/engine connection. Our shafts are hardened. We first want safety – so all units at least initiall will include Blade brake clutches. (Not on tractors – they are actually cheaper than the gas units).

    4) The zoo uses biodiesel derived from waste vegetable oil. In our seven years of experienace we hwve witnessed sever enginge damage as a result of using jsut used or even new oil. Ours is chemically converted to remove glycerin. Esterificationa (waste) and trans-esterification for both waste and virgin.

    5) Yes – the new units will have the choice of either virgin or waste derived biodiesel.

    6) Definately much more complicated that simply filtering. Here is a picture of the refinery:

    7) Only the EPA – we were given permission in in writing to proceed – that the removable tank met the requirement for enforcing the use of biodiesel. Nutshell: If you plan to submit an engine for emissions testing on a recognized alternative fuel (biodiesel) and the engine passes the test – you msut also prove that the consumer is going to use only that fuel. The manufacturer msut prove an effective methos for prohibiting the use of un tested fuels. The engines won’t pass the emissions tests on fosiil fuel,

  15. Well,

    Because California passed this law I probably will be out of a job. I work at a Briggs and Stratton Plant. I am just a lowly operator, but my college is getting paid for by the tuition reembursiment program. I have average insurance, and good hours. I like my job. I work in one of the missouri plants who make small engines. To save money they will most likely move the plant over to china. I was wondering if the “good” state of California would be kind enough to pay for my insurance, my college education, and help me pay for my families food, while they are sooo worried about their precious air, I guess California dosen’t give a hoot about us in Missouri.

  16. Sorry you’re losing you’re job. But you should blame your company, not California. Do you think that a company should be allowed to produce whatever they want and force it on customers, who have to accept it–just so people can keep their jobs? I don’t. The company should do the right thing and NOT send jobs to China and NOT lay people off. They are making that decision, blaming California, and trying to make you fall for their lies.

  17. there is a biodiesel mower. patent was just issued.
    see the november issue of the city update for kirkland washington. its a good looking machine.

  18. I live in California and I’ve noticed the price of mowers and other yard equipment is more expensive. Many times I’ve run across a national sales ad only to find that the sale model is not for sale in California. In fact I’m looking at an ad right now for a chain saw (2 stroke) that says “Not for sale in California”. I was at the store and they say they’ve had many people asking about the sale but, sadly, its illegal to sell it in California.

    I prefer gas yard equipment because running a cord far enough to reach across a large lawn is dangerous. The length of the cord generates resistance and causes the cord and the motor to overheat. If you read the directions on the electric mowers they’ll tell you not to use a card longer than 10 feet. So unless you have a little foot garden you might want to consider gas.

  19. I am currently doing a project for a class that I’m taking for summer school about alternative fuels. I had to interview my roommate’s mom who works for Toro and she told me that since 2007 the company has produced a new line of “green” turf maintenance equipment that runs on alternative fuels such as biodiesel and are testing fuel cells. It also has some that are electric that run with lithium batteries. This are for commercial use but she also told me they have electric lawn mowers for houses and stuff. The thing about biodeisel is that it lasts longer than gasoline and is more biofriendly.

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