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Disclaimer—This paper partially fulfills a writing requirement for first year (freshman) engineering students at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. This is a student, not a professional paper. This paper is based on publicly available information and may not provide complete analyses of all relevant data. If this paper is used for any purpose other than these authors’ partial fulfillment of a writing requirement for first year (freshman) engineering students at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, the user does so at his or her own risk.


Brandt Miao (bwm23@pitt.edu)


Concerns about the use of fossil fuels in automobiles has proven to be an increasingly bigger topic of debate in recent years. Cars that burn fossil fuels continue to release pollutants into the atmosphere that are dangerous not only to humans, but the planet too. Reducing these harmful emissions is an issue of high priority and solutions can be obtained by utilizing the ever-so developing world of technology.

Today’s alternatives to fossil fuel engines are not incredibly broad. While the basic technology behind the electric car isn’t breaking any headlines, it is still the most promising and viable option. It is not a 100% perfect technology yet, but I along with many others believe electric cars are a huge step in the right direction for solving the world’s exhaust emissions problem.

Tesla Motors is the main company that is pioneering the development of electric vehicles. My interest in this company in particular and my love for cars combine to make this technology a great area for me to pursue a career in. As a future engineer I hope that I will be able to contribute to solving this problem and make a worldwide impact.


What is Really Happening When You Go for a Drive?

In many cases, commuting is an essential part of a person’s day. Whether it’s going to school, driving to work, running errands, or simply for social reasons, the automobile finds its way into the lives of a countless number of people. While the awesome technology known as the combustion engine makes our lives exponentially more convenient, it comes at a price. The consequences of burning so many fossil fuels to power the engines of these automobiles cannot be ignored.

The chemical reactions that occur in combustion engines create exhaust pollutants that are expelled into the atmosphere. Such pollutants include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and most abundantly, hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons react with nitrogen oxides to form ozone: a compound that irritates and damages the respiratory system [1]. The combination of these emissions are dangerous to one’s health, especially in car-dense areas such as cities.

The idea of global warming is often heavily associated with cars and their emission of carbon dioxide, and with good reason. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, just under 20 pounds of carbon dioxide are produced from burning a single gallon of gasoline, combining for a total of 1,545 million metric tons in 2015 [2]. With the release of so much carbon dioxide, more and more heat is getting trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere and subsequently increasing temperatures.

The Issue at Hand: Why it Needs to be Addressed

It can be easy for one to dismiss their own contribution to this problem. Many people may follow the mindset that they are just one more person, so how much of a difference can they make? The issue of exhaust emissions cannot be approached from a small-scale perspective. People must come together as a global community in order to make a difference. While reducing emissions is the overall goal, we need a way to reach it. This is where the role of engineers come into play. Due to the enormous role of transportation in so many lives, I believe the task of developing a more efficient and practicable method to powering cars is worthy of being a top priority issue in the world of engineering.

The issue of exhaust emissions particularly stands out to me because it follows directly along with my interests. I have had a passion for cars for as long as I can remember. I hope that after graduating I will be able to turn that passion into my career such that I will become one of the engineers working to solve this problem. Doing so will create a cleaner and safer environment for all people around the world.


The Workings of the Electric Motor

Today’s most reliable alternative to fossil fuels in cars is the electric vehicle. Electric vehicles work by storing electricity in rechargeable on-board batteries to power a motor that turns the wheels. The overall concept is very simple and has many benefits over the conventional combustion engine. The electric motor has a linear power output, which means there is no need for a transmission. Oil changes are not necessary, and the simplicity of the motor means there is less of a chance for a malfunction. The combination of these factors mean that most of the maintenance costs generally associated with combustion engines are eliminated [3]. The electric motor holds all of these benefits while still maintaining a zero-emissions profile, making it very valuable technology to be implemented into automobiles.

Of course, the electricity to power these motors does not just appear out of nowhere. Many critics hold the perspective that the electricity itself used to power these electric cars comes from the burning of fossil fuels, so ultimately it does not solve anything. This argument, while partially true, is not entirely accurate. The Union of Concerned Scientists – a team of scientists and engineers led by distinguished professors from Dartmouth College and Harvard University – argue that even cars charged off electricity from “the dirtiest coal-dominated grids still produce less pollution than their gasoline-powered alternatives” [4]. On top of this, many alternatives to using fossil fuels for general forms of energy already exist. While harnessing energy from the sun in solar panels and harvesting the movement of air through wind turbines cannot efficiently be directly implemented into cars, they can generate the electricity used to charge them. These renewable energy sources are already being integrated into car charging stations, making the electric car and even cleaner and more valuable technology to invest in [5].

The Ability to Make an Impact

From the combined global standpoint, the benefits are relatively straightforward. As more and more renewable charging stations are built, the net emissions from driving an electric vehicle become lower and lower. Less emissions means less of the aforementioned harmful chemicals, and less contribution to global warming.

In regards to engineers, the future of electric vehicle technology looks promising. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance report predicts that 2040 will see an 8900% increase in electric vehicle sales, totaling to 35% of all car sales, and effectively saving 13 million barrels of crude oil per day [6]. This huge expansion of the electric car market not only means a multitude of job opportunities for engineers, but immense lowering of air pollution. Such widespread impacts are a great incentive for engineers looking to make a difference in the world.

Personally, I am fascinated by the potential of electric cars. I believe it is incredible how rapidly the technology is developing and how capable it is becoming. I have always loved high-performance cars because of their flair and “cool factor”. Unfortunately, many of these cars run off crazily inefficient gasoline engines. Five years ago, the idea of driving an electric car might have seemed boring and lame to me, but the technology has come so far in recent years. Now, there are electric cars that exist who’s performance rival even the most powerful production cars on the planet. Achieving such high performance whilst keeping a zero emissions footprint in my opinion is proof of what kind of astonishing feats can be achieved when the power of engineering is applied to electric cars.


What Tesla is Doing Different

The biggest name in the electric car world is without a doubt Tesla Motors, and rightly so. Elon Musk’s clean-energy inspired vehicles are examples of technological and engineering masterpieces. Apart from just addressing the problems of exhaust emissions from standard cars, issues within the electric car market itself are taken into heavy consideration.

Many consumers interested in the idea of owning an electric car are sometimes put off by their higher price, limited range, and the time spent charging the car. Tesla’s current models are guilty of the high price tag problem, with many Model S and Model X configurations going for prices in the $100,000 range, however their Model 3, set for production in 2017 aims to solve this. Starting price for the Model 3 is a much more modest $35,000, and it boasts an impressive driving range of 215 miles per charge [7]. Tesla’s supercharging technology is also included. Users can achieve charging speeds of zero to half-full capacity in only 20 minutes, meaning emergency on-the-go recharging does not mean a multiple hour ordeal [7].

Paying attention to the needs of the consumers is a crucial aspect of the success of electric cars. If electric cars are not appealing to consumers, they will not buy them, and thus will not contribute in any way towards solving the exhaust emissions problem.

Tesla: What Does It Do for Us?

Tesla is offering a great way for global consumers to make a difference. Their products are setting the bar high for the future market of electric cars. New electric cars will only become more sophisticated as time goes on. The expected increase in electric vehicle sales means drastic drops in yearly exhaust emissions, and less threatening of the public’s health.

Tesla is proving just how valuable the work of engineers can be when applied to electric vehicles. To other engineers, myself included, the workings of Tesla Motors acts as an inspiration. It creates a desire to achieve something great just like Tesla has. This sense of motivation is why Tesla’s innovation is so important to the engineering community. It intrigues and draws in an increasing number of people who want to be a part of pushing such powerful technology to its limits for the benefit of everyone to share.


Transportation is one of the backbones of our modern-day society. A colossal amount of convenience would be gone without it. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the automobiles used for transportation produce harmful chemicals as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. These chemical exhaust emissions have been ignored for years and their effects are building fast. Electric cars offer a clean, and as a result safer, alternative to conventional gasoline engines. These zero-emission cars play a key role is stopping the growth of exhaust emissions in our atmosphere.

Engineers have already put great work into developing the electric car technology of today, but there is still much more to be done. Electric car technology is crucial to the global society as it reduces the amount of exhaust emission that are put into the air they breathe in. It is the job of engineers to be able to present the public with the necessary means to achieve this. This advancement of electric vehicle technology is so important to myself and engineers because with it, we can create a healthier planet and a safer environment for its people.


[1] “Automobile Emission: An Overview.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed 10.27.2016.


[2] “How much carbon dioxide is produced by burning gasoline and diesel fuel?” United States Energy Information Administration. 5.6.2016. Accessed 10.27.2016.


[3] “Why EVs?” NRG EVgo. Accessed 10.28.2016.


[4] “How Do Battery Electric Cars Work?” Union of Concerned Scientists. Accessed 10.28.2016.


[5] W. Cunningham. “San Francisco Introduces Free, Solar-Powered Electric Vehicle Charging.” 4.17.2016. Accessed 10.29.2016.


[6] “Electric Vehicles to be 35% of Global New Car Sales by 2040.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance. 2.25.2016. Accessed 10.30.2016


[7] “Model 3.” Tesla. Accessed 10.30.2016.



I would like to thank my roommate Brendan Marani for motivating me to keep working on this paper instead of giving up and putting it all off to the last few days.

University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering


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