Using a Textron-donated Jacobsen Greens King V, 18-hp, triplex reel mower, researchers at Purdue University successfully modified its hydraulic system to use water rather than petroleum-based fluid. According to Professor Gary Kurtz, leader of the research, the water system performs as well as a petroleum-based hydraulic system.

Kurtz says that water hydraulic systems are practical only in units with high-pressure systems, which are typically used in heavy equipment for construction. The high cost of high-pressure systems and corrosion caused by the water would require tighter fittings and higher quality (and more costly) parts made from ceramic, fiber-reinforced plastic or stainless steel.

Toro has experimented with “tap water” hydraulics, but they feel that the technology isn't quite there yet to bring these products to market. Mark Anderson, senior principal design engineer at Toro says, “(We) have not found the cost, durability and complete list of components to be acceptable for a production machine. Like any new product, increased volume will drive the cost of production down.”

Deere Golf & Turf Engineer Ron Reichen said the availability of specialized parts is a major hurdle. Hydraulic systems are currently used in the meat-packing industry, but components are currently too large for turf equipment applications. Deere is continuing its interest in water hydraulics but must address the problems of component size and the related cost factors before committing to this technology.

On the potential of water hydraulics technology, Ralph Nicotera, vice president of marketing for Textron Golf, Turf and Specialty Products, says, “While this new technology is being developed, we will continue to expand the use of our Greens Care Biodegradable hydraulic fluids, oils and greases in our turf care products. While we know from experience that biodegradable fluids do no harm to the turf or the environment, we are very interested in technologies such as water hydraulics.”

Kurtz adds that the additional cost of these parts would also be balanced by improved energy efficiency offered by the water-based hydraulic system. An engine that uses petroleum-based hydraulic systems is 60 percent efficient. By using water instead of more viscous petroleum fluid, he estimates the efficiency could be boosted at least 10 percent. Kurtz says, “That doesn't sound like much, but it would mean a savings of 500 million gallons of gasoline in the United States each year.”

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