Sustainable Mobility Matters—Fall 2022

This quarterly newsletter highlights recent projects, partnerships, and publications related to NREL's sustainable mobility research.

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Hurricane-Strength Signs Point to Increasing Urgency of Decarbonizing Transportation

Cars parked on a severely flooded street.

Hurricane Ian was the deadliest storm to strike the continental United States since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and it is one of nine Category 4 or 5 hurricanes to hit the mainland in the last 50 years—six of which have occurred since just 2017. Ian made landfall along Florida's Gulf Coast on Sept. 28, 2022, at Category 4 strength, with sustained winds of up to 155 miles per hour driving a storm surge as high as 18 feet.

The devastation to infrastructure, property, and land has left millions of people grappling with power outages, poor sanitation, injuries, and lack of shelter and medical care. We sympathize deeply with those impacted.

Extreme weather events are startling indicators of climate change, reminding us of the power of Mother Nature every time they come hurtling in, wreaking havoc and chaos on human life as they go. With each devastating storm, the urgency to eliminate carbon emissions from the highest pollutant culprit—the transportation sector—becomes more blatantly obvious.

Research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is homing in on every aspect of this challenge, resolving to create sustainable aviation fuel more quickly and efficiently, advance transportation electrification and battery research, innovate within even the hardest-to-decarbonize transportation sectors, increase adoption of alternative mobility modes, and more.

The faster we can deploy these transformative technologies en masse, the greater our chances to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Although we will never forget the force of Ian, our collective actions today can ensure a safer future.

Drive on,

Chris Gearhart
Director, NREL's Center for Integrated Mobility Sciences

Growing Emissions Drive Fuel and Combustion Innovation

Tough-to-electrify transportation modes such as planes, trains, and boats burn up the miles and fuel moving nearly all cargo freight. Planes alone account for more than 8% of all U.S. transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, but recent NREL breakthroughs could slash emissions by up to 84%. Testing strategies such as combustion simulations can accurately assess fuel performance and interactions with today's airplane turbine engines and diesel engines in minutes or hours, rather than months.

Two people, one on an electric ride-share bike and the other on an electric ride-share scooter, stand on a train platform.

Tool Helps Decision Makers Visualize and Find Solutions for Transportation Equity Gaps

The burdens of insufficient mobility fall most heavily on certain population segments—such as low-income households or those lacking vehicles—that typically have longer commutes, fewer transportation options, and higher transportation costs. To better understand this problem, researchers use the Mobility Energy Productivity tool to quantify disparities in mobility and access and show possible improvements in mobility equity based on specific scenarios, such as high levels of automated and electrified ride-sharing.

Large rectangular Toyota box showing a hydrogen fuel cell system.

New Research Collaboration To Advance Megawatt-Scale Hydrogen Fuel Cell Systems

NREL is collaborating with Toyota Motor North America to build, install, and evaluate a 1-megawatt proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell power generation system at NREL's Flatirons Campus. The 3-year, $6.5 million project will study the scaling and integration of PEM fuel cell systems for stationary power generation and support H2@Scale partnerships to integrate hydrogen technologies in future energy systems.

A group of men in a lab.

Flexible Data Sharing Could Accelerate Battery Breakthroughs

NREL scientists already use complex computer algorithms to characterize battery performance, lifetime, and safety, but the continued evolution of data science relies on high-quality and robust data far beyond the capabilities of any single entity. Top battery researchers across the globe are joining a movement to spur technology development through a shared Battery Data Genome, which aims to accelerate the development of new energy storage solutions to meet decarbonization goals.

Mining dump truck driving through hills of dirt.

Solutions Emerge for Decarbonizing Historically Difficult Off-Road Vehicle Sector

The off-road transportation sector—spanning construction, mining, military, and agricultural industries—relies on some of the largest vehicles on Earth that are built for the extreme. Solutions to help decrease carbon emissions must go beyond simply adding charging stations, considering power might not be available for miles. NREL researchers joined industry and government experts to pinpoint challenges and develop strategies to put the sector on the path toward meaningful decarbonization.

People riding e-bikes on a street.

NREL OpenPATH Tool Enables Expanded E-Bike Pilot Program

After a successful e-bike mini-pilot collaboration, NREL teamed up with the Colorado Energy Office again for a full-scale, 2-year e-bike pilot. The program uses NREL's Open Platform for Agile Trip Heuristics (NREL OpenPATH) tool developed by researcher K. Shankari to collect and analyze travel data, which has informed the creation of new e-bike incentive programs in Colorado and the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Micromobility Integrated Transit and Infrastructure for Efficiency project, led by transportation behavior analyst and program manager Andrew Duvall.

A plane on an airport tarmac.

NREL Addresses Energy Challenges for Sustainable Aviation

NREL's cutting-edge sustainable aviation research is leading the energy transformation in aviation operations. From field to fuel, electrons to molecules, and bench to pilot scales, NREL develops and demonstrates low- and lower-emission biofuels by drawing on extensive experience in biomass conversion, as well as fuel properties and combustion. NREL also designs more efficient aircraft system components and infrastructure upgrade plans that will lower energy consumption while enhancing performance.

Cars and pedestrians at a four-way intersection with stoplights. Scientific equipment is strapped to one of the stoplight posts.

New Software Tool Helps Cars and Pedestrians Share the Road

The next generation of traffic signal controls will need to not only prompt drivers with red, yellow, and green signals but also manage an environment that includes both automated and conventional vehicles along with pedestrians and cyclists. Researchers are developing a new software tool that uses real-time data from infrastructure-based sensors such as radar and cameras to create accurate digital representations of intersection traffic to help prevent crashes and boost traffic efficiency.

Solar panels in a field with buildings and mountains in the background.

Federal Aviation Administration Partners With NREL To Understand Energy Needs of Electrified Aircraft

Multiple electric aircraft are currently in the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety certification process, many taking off and landing without a runway or preparing for pilotless operation. To assist FAA in providing safety recommendations for airport infrastructure to support these advanced aircraft designs, NREL will assess a selection of U.S. airports to determine solutions for implementing electrical infrastructure at scale.

A group of people looking at a scientific model on a screen

Electric Vehicle Battery Models Inform Crash Simulation Evaluations

As electric vehicle (EV) adoption gains momentum, NREL is collaborating with Hyundai Motor Co. to ensure EV batteries can safely and reliably go the distance, with new modeling capabilities to evaluate dynamic, high-speed impacts. This approach combines in-lab experimentation with advanced imaging techniques to provide detailed analysis on thermal and electrochemical reactions throughout battery failure. These results are helping design computer simulations to streamline crash evaluations for EV batteries.

Close-up of a plane engine.

Better Components Can Boost Range and Efficiency of Next-Gen Sustainable Aircraft

Aircraft rely heavily on advanced power electronics to distribute the proper amount and type of power between system components such as batteries, inverters, converters, chargers, and electric machines. NREL's advanced power electronics and electric machines research supports the development of innovative lightweight and ultraefficient electric motors, propulsion systems, and thermal management. Industry partnerships, including an ongoing collaboration with General Electric, are already helping aircraft engine manufacturers meet their goals.

A group of people posing for a photo together.

International Collaboration Strengthens Sustainable Battery Research

NREL researchers recently participated in a collaborative electrochemical energy storage workshop hosted by the United Kingdom's Faraday Institution. This in-depth meeting helped identify areas of mutual interest in key areas of battery research, such as reducing reliance on critical materials in cathodes and ensuring recyclability of batteries. At the event's conclusion, energy storage research leaders signed a memorandum of understanding establishing a cooperative relationship in support of these battery priorities.

Get To Know Our Team: Gina Fioroni

Portrait photo of a woman.

A conversation with NREL's Gina Fioroni, group manager of the fuels and combustion sciences team.

What is your primary research focus at NREL?

My background is in organic and analytical chemistry, and I have mostly designed and modified instruments to be research platforms for resolving complex fuel issues and concerns. Since joining NREL in 2009, I have been involved in research that is focused on understanding and solving issues related to fuel quality as well as lowering barriers for the market adoption of sustainable transportation fuels. I have worked on gasoline and diesel as well as aviation and marine fuels more recently.

In your field of research, what one mobility challenge do we need to prioritize in the next 5 years?

While electrification is making significant inroads with light-duty vehicles, it will not significantly contribute to decarbonizing rail, aviation, marine, and heavy-duty transportation in the near term. These modes represent nearly half of the projected transportation energy demand in 2050. Introduction of low-carbon and net-zero-carbon fuels offers the lowest-cost pathway for rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from these "difficult-to-electrify" sectors. Additionally, there is the DOE goal of providing 3 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel by 2035. That sounds far away, but we need to start immediately if we are to meet this ambitious deadline. Fuels and combustion is an area that still holds many research challenges and provides an immediate impact in reducing our carbon footprint.

What sparked your interest in researching sustainable mobility?

I have always loved chemistry and solving complex issues. Understanding how the chemical makeup of sustainable fuels can be modified to enhance engine efficiency and reduce emissions has been an exciting challenge for me to address since the beginning of my career. Now, there is a critical need to develop drop-in, advanced fuels from low-carbon and renewable sources. Figuring out how we can produce the vast volumes of sustainable fuels required to meet this challenge is energizing and motivating, to say the least.

Why does sustainable mobility matter?

Mobility is extremely important in our society, from the movement of goods to the movement of people. One of my favorite things to do is immerse myself in the culture of another place and learn about the different perspectives of the people living there. The ability to do this with as little carbon footprint as possible is important to me, but everyday things people depend on are important to all of society. Whether people are traveling to and from their jobs or freely around the world, moving sustainably and in harmony with the planet is our responsibility.

Must Reads

Off-Road Vehicle Workshop Highlights Challenges and Opportunities for Decarbonization

NREL hosted a 3-day workshop alongside industry and government partners to address one of the most difficult transportation sectors to decarbonize: off-road vehicles across the construction, mining, military, and agricultural industries. Contributing 9% of total transportation-related emissions from diverse sources, the challenges they present are both complex and urgent. Discover some of the key findings in the NREL Off-Road Decarbonization and Energy Systems Integration Workshop summary report.

NREL Researchers Draw a Roadmap for the Future of Sustainable Aviation

Current U.S. and international goals for decarbonizing the aviation industry require both near- and long-term improvements to fuels, aircraft, and the airports and bases that support them. A Roadmap Toward a Sustainable Aviation Ecosystem outlines a holistic path forward across interdisciplinary NREL research areas, pinpointing the critical areas for research, development, demonstration, and deployment to achieve deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

Automated Mobility: From Concept to Reality

Organizations like transit agencies, local governments, and universities interested in using automated vehicles for passenger service can benefit from the collective experience of 10 demonstration projects detailed in NREL's Automated Mobility District Implementation Catalog. The catalog highlights the progress, insights, and lessons learned from early adopters of autonomous shuttles in prototype projects around the world. The new edition identifies common trends across sites, as well as recommendations to ensure safety, system efficiency, and an equitable distribution of benefits for all roadway users.

NREL Study Benchmarks California's Zero-Emission Transit Goals

California's Innovative Clean Transit (ICT) regulation, adopted in 2018, requires California transit agencies to gradually transition to zero-emission buses (ZEBs) over the next several decades. Defining an increasing percentage of new ZEB purchases each year, the regulation is designed to result in 100% emissions-free fleets statewide by 2040. In collaboration with UC Berkeley and the California Air Resources Board, NREL's Comprehensive Review of California's ICT Regulation: Phase I Summary Report documents the state's progress toward this ambitious goal and readiness to meet upcoming targets.

Did You Know?

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $5 billion over 5 years for clean school buses, including electric and alternative fuel buses. For K–12 school districts interested in adopting electric school buses, NREL transportation researchers collaborated with DOE's Clean Cities Coalition Network to launch a new DOE training series titled Flipping the Switch on Electric School Buses. These technical assistance videos cover topics ranging from vehicle and charging basics to training, cost considerations, infrastructure needs, and more.

In the News

Google Has One of Big Tech's Most Aggressive Sustainability Plans. Here's Its Three-Step Playbook for Helping the Planet
Fortune features NREL's partnership with Google Maps

NREL is partnering with Google Maps to develop more eco-friendly route options, allowing drivers to easily choose driving routes that produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions. The NREL-developed Route Energy Prediction Model (RouteE) powers the app's sustainability option, informed by real-world driving data that enable prediction of fuel consumption over a proposed route.

New Fuels From Federal Lab in Colorado May Fix One of World's Toughest Climate Problems
Denver Post interviews Zia Abdullah

Soon, millions of airplane passengers could fly without contributing to climate change if current oil-based fuels are replaced with new sustainable aviation fuels. Sustainable aviation fuels being developed at NREL are made from an increasing variety of plants and other materials, broadening the opportunity to decarbonize aviation.

Power Players: 10 Researchers Leading Biden's Effort To Make Electric Cars Cheap Enough for the Masses by Cracking Battery Recycling (subscription required)
Business Insider features Matt Keyser and Jaclyn Coyle

ReCell is a DOE-launched advanced battery recycling group made up of several national laboratories providing key knowledge and insights. NREL's Matt Keyser and Jaclyn Coyle are recognized for their contributions in battery materials analysis and diagnostics, as well as recovering high-value materials from used EV batteries, respectively.

Heavy, Medium Duty Trucks Will Be Electric in Near Future
Energi Talks interviews Matteo Muratori

Electric models of medium- and heavy-duty trucks are projected to reach cost parity with conventional trucks in the near term. Fleets shifting to EVs may see numerous benefits, including increased safety from better acceleration capability, easier handling for drivers, and the ability to power other infrastructure with power stored on board the vehicle.