ResilienceImproving Florida’s Hurricane Resilience: Alternative Fuel Vehicles, Infrastructure

Published 21 September 2021

When events like tropical storms or other unforeseen crises disrupt a state’s primary supply of gasoline and diesel, emergency fleet efforts can become hampered as access to fuel is restricted or completely unavailable.

One promising pathway to efficient and organized natural disaster recovery efforts, however, lies in bolstering alternative fuel vehicles and infrastructure. By developing systems that rely on more abundant alternative fuels like compressed natural gas (CNG), propane, and electricity, emergency fleets are better equipped to react to, and recover from, natural disasters.

To prepare for those types of emergency events, researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory(NREL) have partnered with the state of Florida to create a new Transportation Fuel Resilience Plan. The plan—developed in close collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Florida-based Clean Cities coalitions, the Florida Office of Energy, University of South Florida, and ICF Consulting—aims to help the state better leverage alternative fuel vehicles for evacuation and recovery efforts when hurricanes cause shortages of gasoline and diesel. NREL’s deep expertise is derived from decades of analytical and hands-on technical support with alternative fuel fleets to solve these types of challenges.

“This project is creating a tangible selling point for further exploration and development of alternative fuels, regardless of buy-in on the issues of climate change and petroleum reduction,” said NREL’s Caley Johnson, a senior transportation market analyst and co-author of the plan.

Like many coastal states, Florida has continued to experience more frequent and powerful tropical storms and hurricanes in recent years, cutting off access to many necessities, including petroleum. Ships typically supply petroleum through ports in Florida, but when natural disasters force the ports to close, the fuel supply can become suspended. That leaves civilians and frontline workers stranded along evacuation routes and unable to help the disabled petroleum-dependent systems or people who rely on them.

Alternatively, natural gas—which directly fuels CNG vehicles and also fuels power plants that provide power to electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE)—is transported to Florida via pipelines, and propane fuel is transported via rail. These supply chains have proven more robust and resilient in emergency situations than ocean-based transport dependent on port access.