Cut-price gas provides much fuel for thought

5 October 2001

Cut-price gas provides much fuel for thought

ATVs have become important machines in farming and

forestry but escalating fuel costs are now encouraging many

users to seek alternative fuel types. Martin Wright reports

PETROL may have advantages over other fuels for ATVs, most notably it offers high power output from a small, lightweight engine, low noise levels and good reliability. But unfortunately petrol is expensive, there are restrictions on the amount that can be stored in cans on the farm and, as a result, frequent visits to the local filling station are required.

Diesel, traditionally the UK farmers favoured fuel, offers much lower cost/litre and more convenience in terms of on-farm bulk storage but the performance characteristics of oil-burning ATVs make them less suitable than petrol models for some tasks.

But a third alternative -liquefied petroleum gas (lpg) – offers comparable performance to petrol with similar running characteristics. ATVs must be undergo a conversion to run on lpg, with kits costing between £300 and £700 depending on the model and the complexity of the installation.

Most conversions are quite straightforward and little modification is usually needed. The availability of the kits is also becoming more widespread with several dealers offering them, although no ATV manufacturer promotes them.

Like diesel, lpg can be stored in bulk tanks on farm, with a special pump to fill the gas tank on the ATV. The bulk tank is usually installed by the gas supplier and the customer pays an installation fee and a quarterly service charge to cover the refuelling of the bulk tank. The user is also charged for the volume of gas used.

Staff at the Ouse Washes RSPB reserve at Manea, Cambs, are enthusiastic converts to lpg. Home for up to 2000 cattle during the summer months grazing on the 1046ha (2580 acres) of wet grassland stretching over 13 miles along the banks of the River Ouse, ATVs are the reserves main mode of transport.

Reserve manager Cliff Carson says: "We run four Honda TRX450 four-wheel drives for most of the year, although during peak use periods we hire three more machines from our local dealer.

"During busy months our fuel bill was up to £600 between the seven machines and when it was suggested we take part in trials of gas-fuelled machines we were very keen. We had looked at diesel machines as an alternative, but reduced performance and increased noise were the problems."

The first gas machine used by the reserve used a pre-production dual fuel system that was able to run on petrol from the normal fuel tank or gas from a special cylinder at the touch of a switch. Fuel cost savings were quickly evident and when the machines were due for changing a single fuel lpg system was specified.

Livestock manager Jon Reeves says: "We have our four lpg vehicles as well as two petrol machines on the reserve and it is hard to tell any difference in performance between them.

"Our bulk tank has been on site for more than a year and we have proved conclusively the financial benefits. We are paying about the same per litre for gas as we do for red diesel but with no noticeable loss of performance.

"We have also saved a lot of time because our local garage shut down a few years ago and we were having to travel further to get the petrol cans filled."

Mr Reeves estimates that when the rental cost for the tank and refuelling charge are taken into account lpg costs 34p/litre. The charity would hope to save £1200 in a typical year, while the cleaner exhaust emissions make them attractive for environmental reasons, justifying the initial investment.

Another convert to lpg is Neville Howard, owner of the Greystoke Castle Estate in Cumbria. The 1215ha (3000 acre) estate has diversified its operation to include corporate entertainment programmes and management training exercises and runs 18 Yamaha 400cc 4WDs and 13 Yamaha 125 2WDs.

Like the Ouse Washes reserve, Mr Howards introduction to lpg was through a series of trials organised by his local dealer.

"At the time it was in the early stages of development and that taught us a great deal," he says. Potential fuel cost savings were quickly identified and when we ordered the 18 400cc machines in spring 2000 we specified a dual fuel gas and petrol system. We could not have justified this level of investment in new machines without considerable savings in running costs and the lpg option was the obvious answer."

"We notice a small drop in performance when switching from petrol to gas, but this isnt an issue in our type of work. We achieve just over 14% more miles per litre on gas than we do on petrol and because the fuel is approximately 25% of the cost per litre, the savings are considerable."

"During our first full year with the lpg, we saved more than £12,000. Our machines run an average of six to eight hours/working day and this can be achieved on lpg without a refill being needed, although we do have the facility to run the machines on petrol if necessary."

Greystoke Castle Estate has a 5000 litre bulk tank which is refilled regularly by the gas supplier. "It takes longer to refuel with gas than it did on petrol because we have to take the ATVs to the tank to be filled rather than taking fuel to the vehicles, but the convenience of the on-site bulk tank outweighs any disadvantages," says Mr Howard.

For most users, the cost of switching to gas, including the conversion plus the on-going tank rental and service costs, will mean the decision to convert to lpg is finely balanced, but the lpg option could be worth serious consideration where several machines or a big annual mileage are involved. &#42

Above:The specially designed gas tank is mounted safely under the front fender, keeping the centre of gravity low and leaving the load racks free of obstruction. Right:Jon Reeves refuels one of the Ouse Washes RSPB reserves lpg-fuelled Hondas from the on-site bulk tank.

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