The Emergence Of Everyday Electric Outdoor Machines

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The invention of the electric motor revolutionized life in the home. We take it for granted in the western world that clothes dryers, vacuum cleaners, fans, air conditioners, refrigerators, and freezers are electric. Everyday electric outdoor machines, however, have been slower to see mass adoption, with internal combustion engines (ICEs) favored for a century due to what had been an energy density advantage.

But the prominence of ICEs in equipment has begun to wane.

If you look around in the garden section of your local home improvement store, you’ll notice that the assortment of lawn mowers, leaf blowers, weed wackers, and edgers now includes a nice selection of electric options.

Head out to the boat show, and the talk of the civic center is the reveal of slick electric boats.

Electric bicycles are the rage in circles ranging from Zoomers to Boomers.

Lightweight, practical, and easy to ride, electric scooters are becoming especially popular in communities that want to reduce car traffic.

Electric all-terrain vehicles are catching the eyes of outdoor lovers who want to do their part for the natural world.

Improvements in power density and efficiency of electric outdoor machines has given rise to innovative designs and improvements, and new classes of battery-powered machines are emerging. A recent New York Times article claims that electric outdoor machines are gaining market share faster than electric cars in many categories, with numerous startups courting investors with the lure of being the next Tesla, albeit of the electric lawn and garden or recreational industry.

The environmental and financial benefits of electrified everyday outdoor machines are potentially significant.

The Electrification of Boats

The electrification of boats is happening right now, according to Motorboat and Yachting magazine. From 7.7m foiling sportboats to 18m catamarans, electric boats are here. Because water creates so much resistance, small day boats make the most viable converts to electric power.

With boat electrification comes a change in culture so top speed becomes less favored than comfortable cruising.

  • Mercury has unveiled a prototype electric outboard motor and is watching the shift to electrification carefully.
  • Flux Marine is one of several companies trying to adapt electrical power for watercraft. With the help of $15 million in venture capital, it plans to begin selling electric outboard motors made at a plant in Bristol, RI, this summer.
  • Vision Marine sells 100% electric boats, outboard motors, and technology to the marine industry via a retail e-commerce website, rental boating companies, and original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s). The E-Motion 180E is the company’s signature and powerful electric outboard engine.

Some engineers are taking advantage of the shift to electrification to rethink design. The only electric offshore powerboat racing series, E1, plans to begin staging events in Miami and other cities next year. The series will use battery-powered boats equipped with hydrofoils that lift the hulls above the water, greatly reducing resistance.

The series was established to create an exciting, competitive racing platform to promote sustainable electric watercraft and reduce the environmental pressures being placed on the ocean, rivers, and lakes. “We have to change the paradigm,” said Rodi Basso, the chief executive and founder of E1. “This is what Tesla has done.”

Smaller electrified boats are a good fit for the hundreds of lakes where conventional outboard motors are now banned because of noise or pollution. Sailboats, of course, are the original sustainable watercraft and have operated on wind power for thousands of years. A Bloomberg article made us smile, as a small number of specialty roasters in Europe are now offering beans that have been sailed — rather than shipped via fossil fuel burning vessels — from South America.

The Cold, Clear Track to Electrified Snowmobiles

Imagine your connection to nature if your motorized sled zipped through the towering forests and rugged rocky outcrops without engine sound. All you’d hear would be a whoosh of metal runners on snow or the burble of a nearby stream.

Like many other electrified machines, electric snowmobiles, which start at $17,500, save money on fuel and maintenance. The full life cost-benefit analysis in comparison to ICE snowmobiles is quite close to breaking even — plus electric snowmobiles are good for the environment.

  • Taiga was the first electric snowmobile to be sold widely. Without compromising performance and power, the Canadian company’s vision has been to accelerate off-road electrification with mass production capabilities. Taiga has installed charging stations alongside a popular snowmobile trail network in Quebec and plans more.
  • Headquartered in the Canadian town of Valcourt, Quebec, BRP makes Ski-Doo snowmobiles and has said it will offer electric versions of all its products by 2026.  “There is a trend out there driven by the automobile,” said José Boisjoli, the chief executive of BRP, which is the largest snowmobile maker. “We can’t ignore it.”

However, the electric outdoor recreation market is smaller than that for EVs, so it may be more difficult for manufacturers to make profits.

  • Worldwide sales of snowmobiles grew to 133,444 units from 2020-2021.
  • Electric car sales more than doubled to 6.6 million in the same period, representing close to 9% of the global car market and more than tripling their market share from 2 years earlier.

The Lowdown on Electrified Lawn Equipment

Lawn mowers are typically noisy and smelly. Without catalytic converters to reduce harmful emissions and powered by lower quality fuel, they are the source of high levels of localized emissions that includes hazardous air pollutants, criteria pollutants, and carbon dioxide.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a new gas powered lawn mower produces the same air pollution in one hour of operation as would 11 new cars for the same amount of time. Moreover, over 17 million gallons of gas are spilled each year refueling lawn and garden equipment – more oil than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez.

California has passed legislation to ban gasoline-powered mowers beginning in 2024. But sometimes people are converting to electrical power because it offers practical advantages. An electric lawn mower with a power cord is a thing of the past, and battery powered electric mowers are more powerful than ever before. Electric mowers are light, quiet, and, typically with a push-button design, easier to start than their ICE counterparts. And range anxiety is not a concern in the backyard.

  • EGO Power Plus offers a wide, 21-inch cutting platform and 56-volt battery that works with EGO’s entire line of yard power tools.
  • Ryobi One Plus HP 18-volt Brushless is compact and weighs just 34.5 pounds.machine uses Ryobi’s standard 18-volt rechargeable batteries too. They’re the same lithium-ion power packs that the company uses in its popular line of home power tools.
  • Hart 40-Volt Cordless Brushless has a 20-inch cutting width and weighs 52-pound.It isn’t self-propelled, so pushing the mower uphill needs to be taken into consideration alongside its low price. It has a pair of 40-volt batteries and charger are compatible with Hart’s lineup of power tools.

The lawn and garden industry has gone electric faster than the car industry. In 2020, electric mowers, leaf blowers and other equipment accounted for 17% of the market in the US, according to the market research group, Freedonia. That’s more than 3x the share of electric vehicles in the US car market.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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