Alternative-fueled sweepers, at this point, are used mostly by municipalities and the government, but contract sweeper use is starting to grow. Alternative fuels include propane, compressed natural gas (CNG) and electric hybrids.
If you're interested in investing in an alternative-fueled sweeper there are a few things you need to know, and some questions you should ask the manufacturer - and yourself - before making a buying decision. "It's a changing environment and this is not an exact market, it's very unique," says Bobby Johnson, vice president of marketing with Tymco.
Brian Giles, product manager for Elgin Sweeper Company, says alternative-fueled sweepers typically have a little higher fuel capacity than traditional diesel or gas sweepers. Alternative fuel engines offer lower engine torque but designers offset this with higher horsepower standard engines. "When it comes to performance of alternative-fueled sweepers, there is really no difference from diesel or gasoline sweepers," Giles says.
Alternative-fueled sweepers are also known to have lower particulate levels in the exhaust, says Raymond Massey, national sales manager for Schwarze Industries.
Alternative fuel options include either propane, also known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or compressed natural gas (CNG). "For contractors propane is probably the more popular choice," Giles says. "It is an easier alternative fuel to get in to." That's because propane is already used as a motor fuel source for other items, and it's easier to obtain propane than CNG.
"Propane is clean burning, readily available, and easier to install in the vehicle and replace," Giles says. Contractors have more engine choices and propane-fueled sweepers are maintenance friendly, he adds. But propane is a by-product of oil refining, and it is still considered a fossil fuel, so it might not be the greenest option.
Compressed natural gas is possibly the cleanest burning of all motor vehicle fuels, Giles says. CNG is a fossil fuel but it can also be produced as a by-product of decomposition of organic materials, he adds. Unlike propane, the infrastructure to obtain and refill CNG is not as readily available in the United States. Because CNG has to be compressed to a very high point, the fuel systems tends to be more expensive, but the high pressures do allow large on-board capacities and with that longer operating times, Giles says.
Although the fuel lasts longer, the CNG tanks eventually do need to be replaced, which adds a high maintenance cost to the vehicle.
It's not as easy as just choosing a new fuel source. "Alternative-fueled sweepers cost as much to run and more to buy," Giles says. "You need to have something generating money for this investment."
Currently there are tax rebates and grants available to help alleviate the initial costs of purchasing one of these sweepers. Municipalities are taking full advantage of the grants, but contractors can look into the tax rebate options.
"The end user can get a sizeable tax rebate from the federal government for properly registered products," Massey says. The IRS website (www.irs.gov) can provide more information on the Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit.
Alternative fuels are not as readily available or as easy to refill as diesel or gasoline. For example, if you run out of propane or CNG while on a job you may have to travel a much greater distance to find fuel than you would for a diesel fueled sweeper. "The infrastructure for refueling is still not in place," says Chad Bormann, Allianz Sweeper Company national sales manager.
Before purchasing an alternative-fueled sweeper, ask yourself some questions. First, and most important, do you have the customers who will pay for this service? Can you charge more for your services? Will you be able to recoup the initial investment costs? If you don't have customers willing to pay extra, do you have a large enough customer base that you can still recoup the costs?