Blog : A Worthy Conversion with NH company Leading the Charge

By Madalyn | Sep 18, 2014 | in

By Michael McCord

What does the Mount Washington Auto Road have in common with a school transportation company in Brentwood? Both organizations are either planning to convert or have converted vehicles to run on Autogas, or propane fuel. It’s an energy efficient and cleaner-burning trend that is taking place all over the country, including right here at home in NH.

Proulx Oil and Propane in Newmarket is the driving force behind the slow but steady growth of Autogas in the region. Company president Jim Proulx has become an Autogas evangelist in part because he tested out a conversion on his personal vehicle and has converted almost 75 percent of his company’s service fleet. He believes “the numbers don’t lie” that Autogas makes sound business sense as a reliable alternative fuel.

“The market is still evolving and it’s my job to educate people and get the word out about the economic benefits of Autogas conversions,” said Proulx who recently spoke to the Raymond Rotary Club. “It has made financial sense for us to do it (conversions) to the point of replacing diesel vehicles before the end of their useful life with Autogas platforms to take advantage of the economic benefits as soon as possible.”

Garrett Scholes of Provider Bus Company in Brentwood, which provides transportation for special needs students for school districts throughout Southern New Hampshire, said Provider has begun a nine-vehicle pilot program after conversions earlier this year. The 14-passenger yellow buses will serve the Londonderry School District which approved the conversions as part of its contract with Provider.

Scholes had a chance meeting with Proulx at an alternative fuel conference in Massachusetts in early 2013. Scholes began doing extensive research to determine if conversion was the right financial move for his company which is always looking to cut down on fuel costs. He estimates Provider will save $1.50 to $2 a gallon for vehicles using Autogas.

“I think the pioneering stage is over,” Scholes said. “We converted because of measureable cost savings plus we will cut down our smog emissions by 80 percent. We considered Autogas a much better alternative than compressed natural gas.”

For Provider Bus Company, Proulx has set up an Autogas fueling station in Hudson.

Proulx said permitting is complete for a similar station to potentially serve three different organizations in the Mt. Washington region. The Mount Washington Auto Road has converted one vehicle thus far and is considering an Autogas conversion for its entire fleet of passenger vans that travel up and down the mountain. The U. S. Forest Service and the Appalachian Mountain Club are also potential conversion partners in the area who have expressed an early interest.

Proulx has established a state-of-the art conversion center at North American Equipment Upfitters in Hooksett for its fleet customers. Proulx’s growing client roster includes a school district in Penacook (which was the first Proulx-inspired conversion client), an automotive group in Massachusetts, and Piscataqua Landscaping Company in Eliot, Maine which has done an Autogas vehicle as well as seven lawnmower conversions.

Proulx is the New England distributor for the PRINS model vehicle conversion system. Proulx explained that PRINS allows the Autogas vehicle to run on either gasoline or propane and can switch on the fly from one to the other without interruption. For example, drivers who are out of range of an Autogas fueling station can simply switch back to gasoline to complete their route until they return to their primary or secondary refueling locations.

Proulx paid around $5,800 for the conversion of his Ford pickup five years ago to see for himself the financial benefits. He said he long realized the pay off and has been racking up savings due to the low cost of Autogas which, with federal rebates of 50 cents a gallon, can be as low as $1.50 a gallon. Though Autogas only has between 85 percent to 90 percent mpg efficiency of regular gasoline, its burns as much as 70 percent cleaner (which is why it was categorized as a certified alternative fuel by the Federal government back in 1992) and can extend the life of engine.

“The power torque is still there and the maintenance costs are close to zero,” he said.

Also known as liquefied petroleum gas or LPG, propane is a natural byproduct of natural gas processing or domestic oil refining. Both nationally and globally, Autogas is gaining market share as a viable alternative fuel. Autogas is used in more than 18 million vehicles worldwide and is the third most utilized fuel behind gasoline and diesel and is it is the top alternative fuel source for vehicles.

Compared to other countries such as Australia and Turkey, the United States is lagging way behind on these cleaner, cheaper and more fuel efficient conversions, with only two percent of total vehicles running on Autogas countrywide or around 300,000 vehicles with about 2,700 fueling stations. According to Shell, Australia, is one of the largest per capita Autogas providers in the world, with more than 615,000 vehicles and 3,200 fueling stations. Due to determined government intervention in Turkey to cut its domestic oil consumption, 37 percent or more than 3.1 million passenger vehicles run on Autogas there and the country has more than 8,500 fueling stations.

Proulx believes that the United States is nearing a tipping point in terms of awareness and financial viability for the commercial sector. His company is not alone in offering free installation of on-site fueling stations for large volume customers such as the new one in Hudson. Proulx also works with potential customers on finding conversion financing.

“You need a measured approach because this can be a very expensive game to be in,” Proulx said. “We can’t put in a filling station for one vehicle but when there is a collaborative effort, the financial benefits become very clear.”

Proulx Oil and Propane is a Business Partner of the Green Alliance, a Portsmouth organization representing more than 100 local green-certified businesses, along with nearly 4,000 green-minded consumer members.

Save $0.10 per gallon on vehicles fueling at Proulx's Newmarket location! Not a Green Alliance member sign-up here!