Eco-Living Magazine

It’s Fall: Start Your (two-stroke) Engines!

Posted on the 20 September 2013 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

The debates and complaints over gas-powered leaf blowers have raged for years, and a quick google search will show you this year is no different. Since their inception in the 1950s, gas-powered leaf blowers, despite being relatively cheap and handy, have been singled out by neighborhoods and municipalities for restrictions and outright bans. While their high-pitched drone is usually what draws the ire of neighbors, the pollution they emit is the chief concern of environmentalists and public health advocates.

This was the subject of a recent article in the Washington Post. Since two-stroke engines lack a dedicated lubrication system, oil is burned along with the gasoline powering the device (the burning oil contributes to the white smoke), and consequently are are not as durable in the long run. While two-stroke engines are lightweight, compact, cheap to buy and maintain, and can be oriented in any way (which is handy for leaf blowers, chainsaws, and other equipment), they are also extremely inefficient.  Each time an air-fuel mixture is loaded into the combustion chamber, approximately 30 percent of it leaks out, unburned, through the exhaust port.

Two-stroke engines release less carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides than comparable 4-stroke engines (which are found in all modern cars and motorcycles), but they release huge amounts of particulate matter and unburned hydrocarbons.  In fact, it is estimated that the particulate emissions from a two-stroke motorcycle is comparable to that of a diesel truck or bus.  Edmunds, as cited in the Washington Post, found that a consumer-grade leaf blower emitted 299 times the hydrocarbons produced by a 6,200-lb, V8-powered Ford pickup truck. To put that in perspective, Edmunds calculated that in 30 minutes, the leaf blower emitted as many unburned hydrocarbons as the pickup would in 4,000 miles.

But before you go out and preach to your neighbors, you might want to keep a couple things in mind. Even if gas-powered leaf blowers were banned, this doesn’t mean your neighborhood will free of air- or noise pollution.  Scooters and lawnmowers are in many cases equally noisy, and frequently rely on 2-stroke engines. And from personal experience, I can affirm that electric leaf blowers are also extremely noisy. It’s also important to keep in mind that leaf blowers are seldom used for more than 30 minutes or an hour at a time.

So what can you do?  Good old fashioned manual labor. Try using a push-mower and a rake. It’s not as fast and easy, but it’ll keep your yard just as green.

“The Leaf Blower” by Micah Boy

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