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Sustainable Mobility Initiative

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 Facility, make it possible for researchers to evaluate 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.

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.


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.

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