No ’Pane, No Gain

Posted: July 1, 2012

Lehr enters the outboard market with propane.

By: Alan Jones

If you’re looking for a quiet, low-emission alternative for your dinghy’s engine, you might want to check out the outboard that won the 2012 National Marine Manufacturers Association Innovation Awards Ecological prize. New from a company named Lehr (pronounced leer), these 2.5 and 5 hp models are powered by propane.

They’re the brainchild of Capt. Bernardo Herzer, the company’s founder and CEO, and they grew out of his desire to create a greener engine. Herzer started with gardening equipment and generators, so outboards were a natural outgrowth.

The first generation of outboards includes a 2.5 and 5 hp four-stroke motor, in both 15- and 20-inch shaft lengths. Weighing just 52.8 pounds (long shaft), the 5 hp is the lightest outboard in its class, by a margin of up to 9.5 pounds. It’s a fairly conventional engine with a single cylinder with a 112cc displacement, which is the smallest in its class.

When propane is pressurized, it’s in a liquid state, which is more compact, but when the pressure is released it turns to vapor, which also makes it spill-proof. Even if it is vented into the atmosphere, it’s not a problem since it’s not classified as a greenhouse gas. Because propane is under pressure, Lehr outboards need a different fuel-delivery system that includes a special carburetor that doesn’t have a choke, so we were able to start it easily with one pull. A major plus is that propane doesn’t degrade with time, like gasoline or ethanol-laced gasohol, which has damaged many small motors throughout North America.

Propane for a Lehr can be stored in a regular 20-pound-capacity barbecue tank, but a better alternative is a fiberglass or composite tank, which only weighs around 12 pounds. You can even screw one of those 1-pound camping tanks right into a fitting in the engine’s cowling.

The Lehr outboard is very solidly built using high-grade metals such as stainless steel and bronze, and the fit and finish is good. Lehr produces its own engine block, so quality-control issues are within the company’s sphere of influence. Pricing is comparable to conventional outboards ($1,630 for the 20-inch, 5 hp model at West Marine), and based on current gas/propane pricing and fuel efficiency, your fuel bill will likely be lower. The only downside is that the motor we tried seemed noisier than other portables I’ve tested, although this isn’t surprising, since other builders have had decades to figure out how to ameliorate noise.

Lehr plans to build engines up to 175 hp, but the company started small in order to work out any issues.

Posted By: Joesgig On: 7/6/2012

Title: Propane powered

I think that's a great idea. Now we need a CNG or LNG conversion for diesels. Think about the enviornmental and fuel cost savings.

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