Tom Ross: Sustainable mower exhaust never smelled so sweet |

Tom Ross: Sustainable mower exhaust never smelled so sweet

Traffic moves through Steamboat Springs on Friday leaving columnist Tom Ross pondering why there are no fueling stations in Steamboat for compressed natural gas.

— Wouldn't it be sweet if you could make your lawn mower exhaust smell like a vodka tonic and save the planet all at the same time? Well, you can!

Routt County's uber guru of alternative fuels vehicles, Fred Robinson, reports from Henderson Park that he has come up with a mix of gasoline and E85 ethanol he said his lawn mowers run well on, thus reducing his carbon footprint every time he does yard chores. Even better, his fuel concoction leaves the night air smelling sweeter than it would on unleaded.

"My lawn mowers run best with a 50-50 blend, and it is surprising how much that changes the exhaust smell," Robinson said in an e-mail. "Gasoline exhaust really stinks, but the blend is almost pleasant, with a sort of vodka aroma."

Of course, it goes without saying that you never would drink a gimlet from your lawn mower tank.

I was in touch with Robinson this week because since I attended Randy Udall's talk on peak oil Wednesday night at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, I've been doing a lot of thinking about how I can help reduce our nation's dependence on petroleum before we find ourselves in a really big jam.

Udall is an expert on sustainable forms of energy. In case you missed his talk, he basically laid out the case that the petroleum-based lifestyle we've enjoyed the past 50 years, including flying around on jets to go skiing, is a once-in-a-planet event.

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Sometime before mid-century, we'll see the world output of petroleum hit its peak. Before too many more years go by, we could find ourselves competing for oil with producing nations, whose own economies are growing at unprecedented rates.

Bottom line, Udall hinted, is that if we don't change our petroleum dependency, peak oil will do it for us.

Robinson is a good guy to turn to when it comes to beginning to wean oneself from oil. For 25 years, he has been converting a fleet of vehicles to alternative fuels, from hydrogen to clean diesel to compressed natural gas.

He and his son Tai have a business, Intergalactic Hyd­rogen, that converts multifuel vehicles that can run on hydrogen, methane or ethanol while retaining the ability to use gasoline.

You can find them at

Recently, Robinson has been corresponding with a fellow who is trying to gasify sawdust from beetle-killed pine trees.

Robinson e-mailed me this week to pose the question: "How come we don't have natural gas fueling for vehicles in Steamboat? Vernal, Utah, has CNG for $1.20 per gallon equivalent. It cost $2.15 in Denver from Clean Energy."

Good question, Fred.

No less a sustainable personality than T. Boone Pickens observed this week that the price of oil is creeping back toward $100 a barrel, signaling that we could return to gasoline prices of $4 a gallon at the pump.

Pickens, of course, is the nation's best-known proponent of changing vehicle fleets over to natural gas. Robinson said he thinks Steamboat should aim for converting its fleet of condominium shuttle vans to natural gas.

The after-market approach to making the switch to natural gas requires installing a compressed fuel storage tank and a different fuel-injection system.

Enthusiasm for the conversion process is limited by the Environmental Protection Agency's insistence that the gasoline system be removed from converted vehicles. That renders them virtually useless for long-distance trips, Robinson said.

I'm wary of relying on natural gas for cars and trucks because of the water-quality issues related to natural gas extraction. But we might have a better chance of solving those water issues than we do of prospering through peak oil.

In the meantime, I'm going to search for a mixture of gasoline and ethanol that makes my lawn mower exhaust smell vaguely like a tequila sunrise.

Wish me luck.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail

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