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The ultimate guide to sustainable transportation

Everything from new lithium-ion battery technology to hydrogen cell-powered buses helps us curb fossil fuels
A woman is charging an EV car with a phone in her hand.

Electric cars are only the beginning. As humankind works to slow the effects of climate change, it will need a network of solutions that reduce its need for fossil fuels. Trucks, trains, and buses will all play a part in making our lives more environmentally friendly. So will both private and public investment.

From designing new batteries to recycling them, here’s how sustainable transportation will help reduce emissions, curb waste, and power a greener tomorrow.

3 ways EVs improve the state of sustainable transportation

Fewer emissions

Electric vehicles (EVs) produce as much as 70% fewer emissions over their lifecycles, making their impact on human health and the environment much smaller than that of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars.

Long lifecycle

EV batteries are designed to last 15-20 years, giving them greater longevity than the average 3-5 years the average gas-powered car will get from its battery. EVs also have fewer parts and fluids that need to be replaced, making them easier to maintain and less likely to fail, whereas gas engines only last about 12.5 years.

Greenhouse gas reduction

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are a broad category of emissions that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere, leading to rising temperatures and changing climates. While EV production and disposal release some GHGs, the sum total is far less than the emissions created by gas-powered vehicles.

More renewable energy use

EVs can be charged using solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources, which reduces their environmental impact. If you charge yours using solar from your home’s roof, you can also take some strain off the grid.

Dispelling 3 EV myths


Although it's true that manufacturing EVs produces more carbon pollution than building gas-powered cars, EVs still have fewer emissions overall. Their batteries are also extremely—perhaps even infinitely—recyclable.

Vehicle safety

Electric vehicles undergo the same rigorous safety testing and are held to the same exacting standard as traditional vehicles.

Grid strain

More EVs to charge means more demand on the electrical grid. In fact, the IEA has projected the global EV fleet will demand more than 800TWh of power by 2030. Luckily, the cars themselves use charging strategies that not only avoid grid overload but can even support grid reliability. For more insights about the future of sustainable transportation gleaned from over 100 industry studies, read ChargeLab's free EV market opportunity ebook.

That's the high-level, but we do also go into details

How are EV batteries made?

Most EVs are powered by lithium-ion batteries. This tech has three distinct advantages over many other kinds of batteries. For one, the batteries last longer than most rechargeable options. They also store energy efficiently and—critical for sustainable transportation—weigh relatively little. Their manufacturing takes place across four phases: upstream, midstream, downstream, and end-of-life.


Lithium-ion manufacturing starts with acquiring raw materials. The vast majority use "critical minerals," which include lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, and graphite. The biggest deposits for these minerals can be found in Africa, South America, and Australia.

This stage of manufacturing is fraught with challenges. As demand for sustainable transportation has grown, so has demand for these materials. Supply has struggled to match it. At the same time, mineral extraction is often low-wage work in extremely difficult conditions.


Manufacturers collect these materials at processing plants and refineries. There, they're turned into anode and cathode electrodes in galvanic cells, which produce electricity. The vast majority of material processing takes place in China, but there are processing companies all over the world.


Manufacturers take galvanic cells and place them into modules. Those modules are then combined into packs according to the needs of the vehicle in question. Bigger trucks will need bigger packs, while mopeds and other small sustainable transportation examples might demand smaller ones. Whatever its size, the pack is then placed in the EV and ready to use.

End of life

When an EV battery can no longer produce enough energy or hold a charge, it must be either disposed of or recycled. Most batteries are recycled into brand-new EVs.

You can read up on how EV batteries are made and how sustainable that is. 

What are lithium iron phosphate batteries?

There's more than one way to build a lithium-ion battery. Most green transportation uses the chemical combination of nickel, manganese, and cobalt. These NMC batteries make up 60% of the market as of 2022. But another composition, lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP for short), has gained significant ground—its market share rocketed from 6% in 2020 to 30% in 2022. Here's why.

Advantages of LFP

Lower prices

The nickel and cobalt used for NMC batteries are rare and expensive to mine, driving up consumer prices. LFP batteries, on the other hand, use iron and phosphates—two much more common components. This allows manufacturers to procure them more easily, raising supply and lowering costs.

Improved environmental and labor sustainability

The relative availability of LFP components also makes them more sustainable to retrieve. Harvesting them requires little ecosystem disruption and can more reliably be done under humane conditions.

Increased longevity

NMC batteries last a long time before they need to be replaced. According to one study, LFPs can last even longer, delivering up to five times as many discharge cycles. They're also less likely to degrade when using high-speed Level 3 chargers.

Greater safety

NMC batteries are vulnerable to a malfunction called thermal runaway. When they short-circuit internally, they can release oxygen and catch on fire. LFP batteries contain no oxygen, making them much less likely to burn in the event of a malfunction.

Disadvantages of LFPs

Of course, LFP batteries also have their drawbacks:

  • Range: LFP batteries aren't as energy-dense as NCM batteries, leading to shorter ranges in similar-sized batteries.
  • Less accurate range estimates: LFP cells have a flat discharge curve that makes their current charge hard to gauge.
  • Temperature sensitivity: Temperatures under 4°F (-20°C) and over 140°F (60°C) can reduce capacity and output in LFP batteries.

We have a full write-up on LFP batteries in EV cars if you want a deep dive.

How are EV batteries recycled?

EV batteries present a unique challenge that recyclers are still learning to master. Vehicle dismantlers start the process by pulling the battery pack out of the car and selling it to recyclers.

Those recyclers then break the battery down into all of its pieces: circuitry, wires, plastics, and so on. The battery cells themselves are crushed to separate their component minerals. Finally, all of those bits are sold back to battery makers to build new batteries in a potentially infinite loop.

Challenges to EV battery recycling

The only catch is that, as popular as sustainable transportation has grown in the last several years, most of the batteries on the road still haven't degraded enough to merit recycling. As a result, recyclers haven't built enough infrastructure to meet the looming demand boom.

Right now, the International Council on Clean Transportation estimates that recyclers could handle around 105,000 tons of battery materials a year. That should be good enough for end-of-life recycling through 2036, but the number of EVs on the road is only growing—up to 26.4 million by 2030. Recyclers will need to start investing in infrastructure if they're going to meet all the upcoming demand.

Government incentives are making it easier and more attractive to do just that. The 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates billions of dollars to the EV battery industry, much of which could go to battery handling. The Inflation Reduction Act, passed the same year, also requires that more of the materials used in EV creation come from the U.S. That gives EV manufacturers a great reason to build out domestic recycling.

Of course, that's just the tip of the subject. There's a lot more.

Commercial EVs and the sustainable transportation of goods

As important as consumer EVs are to fighting climate change, they're only one piece of the puzzle. Where each individual EV owner makes a relatively small impact on the environment, commercial fleets have the opportunity to effect major change all at once by going electric. 

Reduced emissions

Road freight accounts for 9% of global GHG emissions. The 27 million heavy-duty trucks currently on the road are the worst offenders at 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Medium-duty and light commercial vehicles aren't far behind at 587 million and 596 million tons, respectively.

Because EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions, switching these vehicles from ICEs to batteries would slash emissions by the same amount. So as UPS, for example, electrifies its 119,00 delivery vehicles, it will have a much larger effect than the average consumer.

Promoting new charging infrastructure

Thanks to their size, logistics companies can generate a lot of demand not just for sustainable transportation, but for the charging infrastructure to support it. The more long-distance trucking goes electric, the more savvy entrepreneurs will build public charging stations to support it. The stations they build can then help alleviate range anxiety for both freight and passengers, removing one of the key barriers to EV adoption.

Vehicle-to-grid technology

Thanks to emerging technology, EVs may soon be able to serve as extra batteries for the grid. Bidirectional conversion would allow them to turn their direct current (DC) into alternate current (AC) and feed it back into the grid. That would allow every EV to store renewables such as solar and wind during their peak production hours. Those reserves could then be tapped when production waned. The result would be states like California using all their solar instead of having to throw away gigawatts of energy.

And there are even more ways EVs contribute to sustainability.

Greening public transportation

Just as fleet operators can have an outsize effect on EV adoption, public transportation networks can do a lot to lower the average person's carbon footprint. And it's not just about electric cars—examples of sustainable transportation also include electric buses and passenger rail.

Where things stand

According to the annual CALSTART report Zeroing In on Zero-Emission Buses (ZEBs), there are around 7,000 electric buses operating across the United States and Canada. That's a 12% increase over 2022, and any growth is good news. California leads the charge on this growth stateside, while Ontario accounts for more than 60% of electric bus use in Canada.

There's lots of demand to drive those numbers up, but they face two challenges. The first is funding. The Federal Transit Administration only had $1.7 billion to distribute among $8 billion in requests, signaling a severe gap between means and needs. The second is scale. There are nearly 1 million buses serving the U.S. alone; the current rate of electric bus adoption will take decades to replace them all.

The future: fuel cell electric buses and electric trains

It's not all doom and gloom. One ray of light: a 75% year-over-year growth for fuel cell electric buses (FCEBs). FCEBs use a hydrogen fuel cell for power rather than lithium-ion batteries. That lets them run longer and charge (much) faster than battery-electric buses (BEBs).

Trains can push sustainability even further. As a baseline, they’re much more efficient than personal vehicles or plane travel. Even current diesel-burning cargo trains are more efficient than trucks and other delivery vehicles. But if you electrify these trains, they can become the lowest CO2 emitters on the market. Delaware and Seattle are leading the way in North America by investing in clean-energy rail for passengers and freight. To maximize their sustainability, cities and countries alike will need to follow their lead.

And the efforts to electrify public transportation are continuing.

Power the future with ChargeLab

As the electric vehicle revolution gains momentum, charging solutions will only grow more important. Whether you’re charging your car or your fleet, get ahead of that demand by partnering with ChargeLab. ChargeLab’s easy-to-use software platform is hardware-agnostic and interoperable, so you can use it no matter your infrastructure. Contact us today to learn more.

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