EcoMow, a startup founded by engineers and business students from George Mason University, is working on an automatic lawnmower that literally creates its own fuel. Between the tailpipe emissions and noise pollution, there’s nothing very clean or green about a traditional lawnmower. Sure, there are electric mowers (still ultimately powered by fossil fuels) and pushmowers (who’s got time for that) but both seem frightfully outdated in a time when phones double as personal computers. So EcoMow is giving the lawnmower a sustainable yet sophisticated upgrade. Their robotic lawnmower not only cuts grass without assistance, but it also turns those same organic clippings into biomass fuel.

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As anyone who’s maintained a lawn knows, most mowers immediately spit out clipped grass directly back onto the lawn. Some bag mowers prevent this from happening, leaving you with a huge bag of organic waste to compost. Leaving the clippings on the lawn and composting them are both very green solutions, but the team at EcoMow has an even better option: use them for power.

In addition to spinning blades, the EcoMow prototype contains a “bar cutter” and “pelletizers.” Together, these technologies press the grass into pellets much like a meat grinder would. “The formed pellets obtained by harvesting are dropped into a collection bin where they are progressively dried with hot air from the gasifier. Dried pellets are then converted to a fuel gas in a device called a gasifier,” explains the EcoMow website.

The partial combustion gasifier uses high temperature to convert the gas pellets to a fuel usable in a conventional gas engine. The fuel is filtered, cooled, and mixed with air before it is used. An internal alternator generates power for electrically driven components and computer control, guidance, and communications. Of course, some of this fuel is used to keep the mower running, but it can also be put to other uses.

“An application I’m pursuing is having little micro grids set up in East Africa where the units would go harvest during the night and then come back and plug themselves in to a power unit during the day and supply power to the local region during the day,” EcoMow’s Jason Force told Treehugger.

+ EcoMow