NREL’s Sustainable Mobility Initiative, focus areas and publications

Cross-posted from NREL:

Graphic of four concentric circles starting with the traveler and branching out to encompass the vehicle, transport system, and built environment.

NREL’s Sustainable Mobility Initiative approaches sustainable transportation as a network of travelers, services, and environments—rather than just vehicles and roads—using connectivity and automation to optimize mobility and significantly reduce related energy consumption. This concept of an intelligent, integrated, and dynamic mobility system represents a meaningful change from today’s vantage point of linear trips and single-occupancy vehicles.

Working with industry, research, and government sector partners, NREL is leveraging connectivity and automation innovations originally intended purely as vehicle safety measures to explore these technologies’ effects on transportation energy use, emissions, and overall system efficiency. Early analysis points to considerable energy-saving potential—up to 90% by 2050. The lab is examining how to maximize these returns while minimizing unintended negative consequences, such as increased travel and energy use due to greater convenience.

NREL’s Sustainable Mobility Initiative takes a whole-system approach to maximize energy savings via the following strategies:

  • Connectivity and interaction with the built environment — Traveler-to-traveler, vehicle-to-vehicle,vehicle-to-grid, and vehicle-to-building connectivity to support sustainable trip choices, provide energy storage and backup for renewable sources, integrate transportation systems with the built environment, and use vehicles to balance building and utility electricity loads.
  • Vehicle automation — Automated vehicle controls to improve energy efficiency, safety, and convenience with features such as adaptive cruise control and parking space location. Efficient driving with smoother starts, stops, and accelerations to reduce energy consumption and maintenance costs. Adaptive cruise control/braking and platooning strategies to allow vehicles to travel closer together, reducing drag, energy consumption, and congestion.
  • Decision science — Understanding travel behavior and consumer choice leading to the adoption of more fuel-efficient vehicles and more energy-efficient travel choices, such as public transit or carpooling.
  • Integrated transportation system management — Optimum travel mode, time, and route selection based on energy efficiency, road conditions, traffic flow, and travel preferences to reduce miles traveled and traffic congestion.

The Sustainable Mobility Initiative draws on NREL’s research and development expertise in energy-efficient vehicles and low-carbon fuels, as well as the lab’s extensive transportation data analysis and modeling tools. NREL’s Peregrine supercomputer—the largest high-performance computing system in the world exclusively dedicated to advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies—and the Research Electrical Distri­bution Bus, combined with the Energy Systems Integration Facility and the Vehicle Testing and Integration FacilityPDF, make it possible for researchers to test and simulate the interface between a wide range of vehicle, infrastructure, and power source scenarios. These cross-cutting efforts also benefit from NREL’s world-class energy integration, renewable energy, and infrastructure expertise.

Key to the initiative’s success is NREL’s collaboration with industry partners in the automotive and information technology sectors; federal, state, and regional agencies; on-demand transportation service providers; and other research institutions.

Clean Cities – Building Partnerships to Reduce Our Reliance on Petroleum in Transportation

NREL assists the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program in supporting local actions to reduce petroleum use in transportation by providing technical assistance, educational and outreach publications, and coordinator support.

Clean Cities is a national network of nearly 100 coalitions that bring together stakeholders in the public and private sectors to deploy alternative and renewable fuels, advanced vehicles, fuel economy improvements, idle-reduction measures, and new transportation technologies as they emerge.

Technical Assistance

NREL engineers and researchers provide hands-on technical assistance to help stakeholders, manufacturers, and fuel providers overcome obstacles to deploying alternative fuels and advanced vehicles. This includes expertise and guidance on vehicle operations and safety, fueling station design and performance, operator training, project economics, stakeholder capabilities, and more.

Get answers to technical questions related to alternative fuels, advanced vehicles, and energy efficiency in transportation through the Clean Cities Technical Response Service phone and email hotline managed by NREL. Seasoned experts answer a wide variety of inquiries and identify relevant publications, data, and other sources of information.

Support for Fleet Managers:

Map of the United States - Coalition Locations

“Clean Cities has been a pleasure to work with because of the educational value it brings to fleets, whether in municipal or private. They give you knowledge and direction for your individual fleet and location for all the different alternative fuels and propulsion for vehicles and equipment. Helping get grant money for your individual project, the director of each collation is very knowledgeable about what is going on in your area and willing to help.”

Photo of Larry Campbell.

—Fleet Manager,
Larry Campbell
City of Fort Wayne, Indiana

Educational, Technical, and Outreach Publications

Browse a large library of Clean Cities publications, developed and maintained by NREL, including reports, handbooks, fact sheets, and other documents that provide information related to the deployment of alternative fuels and advanced vehicles. As new technologies emerge, NREL offers up-to-date analysis, guidance, and expertise to facilitate their adoption.

Coordinator Support

NREL provides technical expertise, training, tools, and information resources to the nearly 100 Clean Cities coordinators who lead local coalitions. In turn, coordinators disseminate this expertise in thousands of communities across the country, enabling stakeholders to capitalize on new market conditions and technologies.

Sustainable Mobility Leadership

The Sustainable Mobility Initiative is advancing a wide range of ongoing activities at NREL and other research organizations, as well as at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).

SMART Mobility

Led by DOE, the Systems and Modeling for Accelerated Research in Transportation (or SMART) Mobility initiative focuses on five primary research thrusts, including 1) behavioral and decision science, 2) connectivity and automation, 3) integrated multi-modal transportation systems, 4) urban science, and 5) vehicles and infrastructure. NREL is collaborating with other national labs across the country on this initiative.

Connected Traveler

Led by NREL and funded by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the Connected Traveler project is designed to boost the energy efficiency of personal trips and the overall transportation system by maximizing the accuracy of predicted traveler behavior in response to real-time feedback and incentives. By pairing transportation modeling with behavior theory, vehicle connectivity, and mobile technology, the system will steer individuals toward energy-efficient travel choices. The project is part of ARPA-E’s Traveler Response Architecture using Novel Signaling for Network Efficiency in Transportation (TRANSNET) program.


Led by NREL, DOE’s Integrated Network Testbed for Energy Grid Research and Technology Experimentation (INTEGRATE) project aims to connect transportation technologies with the grid and the built environment to increase the capacity, efficiency, and stability of the electric grid, with a focus on bi-directional charging, wireless electric vehicle (EV) charging, vehicle-to-grid power flow and controls, and second use of EV batteries for utility energy storage.


Led by CDOT, the RoadX program intends to make Colorado one of the most technologically advanced transportation systems in the nation and a leader in safety and reliability. NREL is playing an active role in shaping the underlying concepts to move this program forward. View CDOT’s RoadX video.

Electric Vehicle Technologies and Targets

The U.S. Department of Energy and the cross-agency EV Everywhere Grand Challenge initiative have set goals for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) to match the price and driving range of conventional gas-powered vehicles by 2022. NREL teams are working closely with industry partners on battery, power electronics, and climate control innovations designed to reach these targets. Learn more about NREL’s research related to EV Everywhere goals, including the automotive components researchers are currently working to improve, in the slideshow below.

3-D illustration of electric car body with energy storage components highlighted and diagrammed: battery management system/inverter, battery pack. Table showing 2022 targets for decreases in battery cost ($125/kWh) and increases in battery capacity, size (400 Wh/l), and weight (250 Wh/kg, 2,000 W/kg).

Batteries, Power Electronics, and Climate Control – NREL Groups

Often the most expensive PEV components, batteries need to be affordable, high performing, and long lasting. EV Everywhere has targeted a 75% reduction in battery cost and a 75% increase in battery capacity as major factors in making these vehicles attractive to a larger audience. NREL thermal management R&D is propelling battery designs toward these goals.


Power Electronics

Climate Control



NREL’s Publications Database offers a wide variety of documents related to sustainable mobility. The following selection provides a sampling of documents about connected and automated vehicles, wireless power transfer (see e-roadway animation), transportation planning, and electric vehicle grid integration.

The Connected TravelerPDF. A. Schroeder. (2016)

Efficient Mobility Summit: Transportation and the Future of Dynamic Mobility SystemsPDF. A. Schroeder. (2016)

Assessing the Energy Impact of Connected and Automated Vehicle TechnologiesPDF. J. Gonder, Y. Chen, M. Lammert, and E. Wood. (2016)

Harnessing Vehicle Automation for Public Mobility: An Overview of Ongoing EffortsPDF. S. Young. (2015)

Estimate of Fuel Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emission Impact on an Automated Mobility DistrictPDF. Y. Chen, S. Young, J. Gonder, and X. Qi. (2015)

Implementation Scenarios for Electric Vehicle Roadway Wireless Power TransferPDF. A. Meintz, T. Markel, E. Burton, L. Wang, J. Gonder, A. Brooker, and A. Konan. (2015)

Transformative Reduction of Transportation Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Opportunities for Change in Technologies and SystemsPDF. L. Vimmerstedt, A. Brown, E. Newes, T. Markel, A. Schroeder, Y. Zhang, P. Chipman, and S. Johnson (2015)

Consumer Views on Transportation and Advanced Vehicle TechnologiesPDF. M. Singer. (2015)

Transportation Secure Data Center: Real-World Data for Planning, Modeling, & AnalysisPDF. J. Gonder. (2015)

Fuel Savings Potential from Future In-Motion Wireless Power TransferPDF. E. Burton, L. Wang, J. Gonder, A. Brooker, and A. Konan. (2015)

California Statewide Plug-In Electric Vehicle Infrastructure AssessmentPDF. M. Melaina and M. Helwig. (2014)

Contribution of Road Grade to the Energy Use of Modern Automobiles across Large Datasets of Real-World Drive CyclesPDF. E. Wood, E. Burton, A. Duran, and J. Gonder. (2014)

Analysis of Possible Energy Impacts of Automated Vehicle. A. Brown, J. Gonder, and B. Repac. (2014)

Appending High-Resolution Elevation Data to GPS Speed Traces for Vehicle Energy Modeling and SimulationPDF. E. Wood, E. Burton, A. Duran, and J. Gonder. (2014)

Effect of Platooning on Fuel Consumption of Class 8 Vehicles Over a Range of Speeds, Following Distances, and MassPDF. M.  Lammert, A. Duran, J. Diez, K. Burton, and A. Nicholson. (2014)

Effects of the Built Environment on Transportation: Energy Use, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Other FactorsPDF. C. Porter, A. Brown, R. Dunphy, and L. Vimmerstedt. (2013)

Effects of Travel Reduction and Efficient Driving on Transportation: Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas EmissionsPDF. C. Porter, A. Brown, J. DeFlorio, E. McKenzie, W. Tao, and L. Vimmerstedt. (2013)

Guam Transportation Petroleum Use Reduction PlanPDF. C. Johnson. (2013)

Simulated Fuel Economy and Performance of Advanced Hybrid Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles Using In-Use Travel Profiles. M. Earleywine, J. Gonder, T. Markel, and M. Thornton. (2010)

For more information about NREL’s Sustainable Mobility Initiative, contact Jeff Gonder.

The Department of Energy's SMART (Systems and Modeling for Accelerated Research in Transportation) Mobility consortium was established to better understand the energy and climate change impacts that arise from future mobility systems.

By Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Reuben Sarkar:

Last week, the Energy Department (DOE) demonstrated its continued commitment to help bring some of these exciting technologies to U.S. cities with an announcement of a joint effort with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to advance the research, demonstration, development and deployment of smart transportation and alternative fuel technologies. DOE formalized the collaboration by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DOT to further leverage combined expertise in transportation energy technology and safety systems. This will allow us to accelerate analysis, tools, and applications of smart transportation and alternative fuel technologies in support of the cities of the future.

Through the Smart City Challenge, DOT has pledged $40 million (with an additional $10 million commitment from Vulcan, Inc.) to enable one U.S. city to become the first in the nation to fully integrate innovative technologies into its transportation system in ways that will improve quality of life and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In March, DOT announced the seven finalist cities and offered $100,000 to each to help further develop their proposals.

Here at DOE, we seek to complement DOT’s efforts in support of cities by offering tools and capabilities in future mobility systems modeling and simulation, data management and analytics, and access to national laboratory technologies. We are excited to lend our extensive experience in transportation electrification and alternative fuel vehicle fleet deployment gained through our EV Everywhere initiative and Clean Cities program. In addition to transportation sector support, cities can benefit from the Energy Department’s broad portfolio of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, tools and resources.

We are also looking forward to leveraging the work and expertise of our SMART (Systems and Modeling for Accelerated Research in Transportation) Mobility consortium, which we established to better understand the energy and climate change impacts that arise from future mobility systems. This multi-laboratory consortium provides an integrated framework to analyze the complex landscape of future transportation energy.

DOT’s activities are a natural complement to the Energy Department’s mission as it relates to technologies like connected and automated vehicles. These vehicles have the potential to offer immense societal benefits through improved safety and mobility, but the long-term energy impacts are less certain.

These are exciting times for transportation. By working together to showcase what is possible through the Smart City Challenge, we hope to spark further innovation and identify solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. We might not be flying around in DeLoreans, but the future of transportation is closer than you think.

Learn more about EERE’s work to make transportation cleaner and more efficient through solutions that put electric drive vehicles on the road and replace oil with clean domestic fuels.