These days, even Zambonis are going green.
Last summer, Pierce County decided the Zamboni at Sprinker Recreation Center in Spanaway needed an upgrade.
Older machines use internal combustion motors to smooth ice and pump exhaust into the air. That makes for a less-than-ideal environment to play sports, said Kyle Wintermute, general manager of Sprinker, which is one of only two public ice rinks in the state.
“We have excellent equipment maintenance,” he said. “But even with some of the best equipment you are putting emissions into the air.”
The new $100,000 machine is a solution to the emissions problem, Wintermute said. It runs on 20 rechargeable lead acid batteries and leaves no exhaust for skaters to breathe.
Older Zamboni engines produce gases containing carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.
Concerns over the emissions prompted Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island to pass legislation to make ice rinks safer.
In 2009, ESPN reported that 200 people were sickened by carbon monoxide in ice rinks in a six-month span. Skaters at Sprinker have not experienced such extreme reactions, but if people weren’t getting sick, they still were exposed to chemicals.
“It was never a big problem and you could hardly notice it, even if the fumes were in the air,” parks specialist Don Garwood said. “People were always worried.”
Sprinker’s old Zamboni had been cleaning the ice since 2003 and is being used as a backup. The previous backup machine, from 1991, will be put into surplus.
The new machine is up and running nine times a day. It requires less maintenance, but runs the same as any other Zamboni — it just replaces gasoline with electric batteries.
The batteries hold enough power to last the Zamboni an entire day of driving. The older machine used 1,200 gallons of gasoline every year, the new machine uses none.
It works and drives pretty must like the old one, said Garwood, who’s worked at Sprinker since 1983 and drives the Zamboni at least once a week.
The battery-powered machine took a little bit of getting used to, he said. It’s heavier and less responsive, initially giving Garwood trouble turning around the corners.
But he got the hang of it.