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VOL. 126 | NO. 58 | Thursday, March 24, 2011

Green Power

TruGreen brings hybrid technology to lawn care vehicles

By Bill Dries

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The familiar hum of the fertilizer tank and sprayer on TruGreen service trucks is about to fade out.

Dan Rasar prepares to demonstrate the sprayer on a new hybrid electric truck being introduced in ServiceMaster’s TruGreen fleet. The hybrid vehicles are expected to improve fuel economy by up to 40 percent. 
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Associates with the lawn care company that is part of Memphis-based The ServiceMaster Co. have already heard from customers who missed the hum and thought the new hybrid trucks being tested by TruGreen had missed their homes.

“Quiet trucks in the neighborhood are much better,” said Mary Kay Runyan, ServiceMaster vice president of fleet operations.

The first 10 hybrid trucks are on their way to California for use this year after a Memphis roll out on St. Patrick’s Day before several dozen workers at ServiceMaster headquarters wearing various shades of green for both occasions.

The Ford E450 hybrid trucks are custom converted for the ServiceMaster fleet. Drivers of the lawn trucks would normally keep the gas-powered truck engine running not only driving to a job but during the job because the same engine would power the motor on the spraying equipment.

Tending to a lawn can take an associate about 10 minutes and the associate will likely make several stops on the same street and more within a few blocks.

That made that part of the fleet a good fit for hybrids, said Jim Steffen, ServiceMaster fleet technical director.

“This is really helpful if you’re doing a lot of stop and go driving. So for service companies, delivery companies like FedEx – they use hybrids,” said Steffen who was chief engineer for the FedEx hybrid conversion project before coming to ServiceMaster.

“For urban and suburban driving, it’s really ideal. … You get no benefit at all on the highway.”

The Ford trucks are customized by Azure Dynamics with a 360-volt rechargeable battery pack. Those batteries are what runs the pumps on the truck and gets the truck from one nearby stop to another at slow speeds.

The Oak Park, Mich., company specializes in converting light to heavy-duty commercial vehicles with proprietary drive technology.

Once the company is done installing its technology, then ServiceMaster adds the tanks and lawn care gear.

“This truck has a large battery pack,” Steffen said. “We also use the electric power to run the spray pumps when we treat lawns. The engine shuts off automatically. We treat the lawn and get back in and if it’s a short drive to the next lawn, the engine won’t even come on between lawns.”

When the trucks switch back to gas power, the car motor then recharges the batteries. When the driver takes his foot off the gas pedal, the truck automatically begins slowing without putting the brakes on in a regenerative braking system that also helps with the charging.

Steffen estimates a savings of 47 gallons of gasoline a month for every hybrid truck compared to what the conventional trucks use in gas. There are also maintenance savings since there is reduced brake and engine wear.

Kirk Hurto, ServiceMaster’s vice president of technical services for TruGreen, touted the hybrids as part of the company’s “science-based public policy” that includes reducing the use of phosphorus fertilizer on lawns, keeping fertilizers and grass clippings out of places where they could be washed into storm drains, and setting up buffer zones near waterways and other areas where the lawn chemicals don’t belong.

ServiceMaster is a residential and commercial service network of 5,500 companies and franchises.

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