DOE Spending Millions to Boost Use--and Safety--of Advanced Fuel Vehicles

By Susan Jones | November 20, 2012 | 11:48 AM EST

Honda Motor Co.'s 2013 Fit EV, is officially unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/The Yomiuri Shimbun, Taro Koyano)

( – The Obama administration wants more of us to drive alternative-fuel cars and trucks, but first it needs to develop the charging stations and other infrastructure needed to support them.

It's going to happen in President Obama's second term.

On Monday, the Energy Department announced it will spend $11 million on 20 new projects to help states and local governments "cut red tape" and develop the infrastructure, training, and planning needed to “help meet the demand" for vehicles that run on natural gas, electricity and propane.

The new taxpayer funding flows through the Energy Department's Clean Cities initiative.

Many of the projects include technical and safety training for fleet operators, mechanics, and first responders.

The two prime dangers from fuel cell and hydrogen-powered vehicles include electrical shock and the flammability of the fuel, according to the International Consortium for Fire Safety, Health and the Environment.

The National Fire Protection Association predicts that 13.9 million electrified vehicles will be on the world's roadways within 5 years.

It says damaged batteries, silent operation of the vehicle, and fires involving these types of vehicles pose the highest degree of potential danger to both response teams and vehicle occupants.  The association has published an “Electric Vehicle Emergency Field Guide” to addresses some of the hazards.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says extensive research is needed to make sure alternative fuel vehicles attain the same level of safety as conventional vehicles.

“A failure to adequately address safety concerns in the earliest stages of development could affect the future development of these promising technologies,” it said.

The Energy Department, in 2010, published a pamphlet offering tips on "dealing with the media" on the sensitive subject of first-responder safety training.

"Alternative fuel vehicles ARE safe; do not use the word dangerous," the pamphlet advises. “Handle the media with care when it comes to talking about First Responder Safety Training.”

DOE says given the increasing popularity of alternative fuel vehicles, “it is important that first responders learn the details of dealing with these vehicles at the scene of an accident."

"Building a clean and secure U.S. transportation system that leverages our domestic energy sources will give American families, businesses, and communities more options and reduce fueling costs," said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu when he announced the 20 new taxpayer-funded projects.

"At the same time, these projects will help lead the way to further reducing America's dependence on foreign oil and protecting our nation's air and water."