Proulx hopes propane is the next big motor vehicle fuel
Newmarket, NH - November 17, 2013 - Move over gasoline and diesel. Make way electric.
The next big fuel for your motor vehicle just might be propane, at least that's what James Proulx hopes.
The president and chief operating officer of Newmarket-based Proulx Oil & Propane is not just talking the talk, he's walking the walk. He's been using propane to fuel his pickup truck for the last four and a half years and about 115,000 miles.
The product is called AutoGas — propane as a motor fuel.
"AutoGas, if you will, has been around forever but in different forms," Proulx said.
But back before electronic fuel injection systems, there were reliability issues.
Some cars in the 1960s and '70s were fitted with propane fuel systems and "they were very economical to operate, but they had some cold-weather issues," Proulx said.
Advances in motor vehicle technology have overcome that problem. Today, said Proulx, running a car or truck on propane is as reliable as gasoline, with the added benefit of being less expense, by about $1.50 per gallon, And, he added, AutoGas "provides a significant improvement in the emissions."
It's the same propane that you might use to heat your home or fire up your patio grill. Instead of gas vapor, propane vapor is injected into the carburetion system that turns the pistons and powers the vehicle.
A conversion kit to include AutoGas as a fuel source is about $6,500, according to Proulx. A special propane tank is fitted into the vehicle on the bed of a pickup truck for example, or in the spare tire well of a car.
The tank is filled with propane in the same way a gas tank is filled with gasoline. A vehicle then has the ability to run on AutoGas then switch to gasoline as needed.
He said the reuse of AutoGas began to evolve four and a half years ago, at which point he added an AutoGas fuel system into his pickup, with a propane tank secured into the bed of the truck.
"I'm a power engineer by trade, so I tend to have an interest in things that move," Proulx said of his immediate interest in AutoGas.
He said he took his son on a 2,300-mile college tour visit to South Carolina and drove all but 75 miles on AutoGas, using the AutoGas.com Web site to calculate where he could get fuel along the way.
Proulx is part of the Alliance AutoGas group, a coalition of propane dealers such as Proulx who are advocating for the use of the propane fuel.
He's expanding the use of propane to fuel his own fleet of service vehicles — 50 percent by the first week of December, 80 percent by the spring.
He sees a huge potential market for the conversion to AutoGas as a supplement to gasoline-powered vehicles, and he said the technology is being developed to supplement diesel-powered vehicles.
He said four school bus providers in New Hampshire are using AutoGas in their vehicles; another dozen or so are interested.
According to Proulx, AutoGas could be used to supplement fleet vehicles of all kinds — highway, sheriff and police departments to name just a few. There are also AutoGas systems for lawnmowers — think landscapers.
"If they'd be interested in coming to listen, I'd be happy to talk," Proulx said. "We're in the education business, too."
He said once the conversion kit is installed it takes about 40,000 miles for the AutoGas to pay for itself. After that, it's all savings.
He said the potential conversion for diesel-powered vehicles, particularly tractor-trailer rigs could be huge. After the initial investment, he said, the savings could be $1,500 a month in fuel costs.
Among the challenges are getting conversion centers located so people who want to make the switch don't have a long way to go. The one conversion center in New Hampshire is in Hooksett.
Proulx said adding the AutoGas pumps to a retail gas station is of no problem in terms of equipment. "Where there is retail demand, we'll have retail support," he said.
He likens the current AutoGas availability with the availability of diesel back in the late 1970s when it was just taking hold among car dealerships and drivers. Someone driving a VW Rabbit Diesel back then had to find a truck stop to buy diesel fuel. Today, diesel pumps are part of most every retail gas station. Proulx sees the future of AutoGas in the same way.
"This has the same feel," he said.