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THE TESLA MODEL S Nicholas Pezich (firstname.lastname@example.org)
INTRODUCTION When things are designed with the intent of being powered by clean energy, we all will live in a cleaner environment. The fossil fuel industry is infamous for its impacts on global warming. In many ways, it represents the technology of the old. Now, in 2017, we still find ourselves relying on them for our main source of energy. Engineers should take on this responsibility to pave the way for clean technology in the future. For many, the transition to clean technology, such as battery powered electric vehicles and more specifically, the Tesla Model S will allow people to travel without the negative externalities associated with fossil fuels.
NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF FOSSIL FUELS When one drives their car, or turns on the heat in their house, they are probably using some sort of fossil fuel. Fossil fuels have been around for millions of years, with early humans using some types of coal to produce heat, according to Eric McLamb, a ecologist who works to inform the public of ecological issues . Of course, use of them has increased dramatically since the Industrial Revolution, leading to more and more negative effects on the environment . Clearly, something needs to be done to address this problem and it is our job as humans to figure out a way to build a more sustainable future. Fossil fuels represent the past, as far as energy goes, due to their negative externalities. However, new technology such as electric cars, specifically, the Tesla, represent the future in automotive technology. Fossil fuels are things that are rock-like, liquid, or gaseous that are burned to generate power. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non profit advocacy agency to inform the public about climate change, fossil fuels are used to produce electricity, and they are used for transportation . The Union of Concerned Scientists claims that there are many negative costs associated with trying to extract fossil fuels, in addition to using them for their various purposes. More specifically, processes such as mining have negatively impacted the surrounding environment by leaving coal removal sites with soil that either cannot grow anything or is toxic . Fossil fuels also have had a significant impact to global warming. In the United States, seventy-eight percent of global warming emissions were energy related carbon dioxide, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists . The energy and transportation sector takes a large dent in our environments health.
POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS One major area that the United States and indeed the world could cut back on using fossil fuels is the automotive industry. The Union of Concerned Scientists states that one fifth of all the United States emissions come from our cars and trucks . One solution that has become increasingly popular is the electric car. Electric cars come in many different forms, such as hybrids, plug in hybrids, and battery powered electric cars. Each one of these cars has the goal to reduce the impact of fossil fuels on our environment . If these technologies are used, the earth as a whole could significantly reduce its fossil fuel emission and could potentially reduce some of the impacts of global warming.
Electric cars have many benefits, other than being cleaner for the environment. The Ergon Energy Network, a government owned agency that is striving to provide clean energy to those in Queensland, Australia claims that electric cars are cheaper to maintain than standard gasoline or diesel-powered cars . This is because they do not require any gasoline in their tank that one has to refill. Also, there are much less moving pieces in an electric car than in gasoline cars. For example, electric cars do not need fuel injectors, starting motors or other things of that nature . One other added benefit, according to the Ergon Energy Network, that the electric car brings to the table is that most are safer than gasoline powered cars. This is the case because many electric vehicles tend to have a lower center of gravity because of how they are designed. This inherently means that electric cars are harder to tip over . This is because electric cars have a lower center of gravity, meaning that they can go around turns faster. Another additional advantage of electric cars is that they are less susceptible from fires upon impact. Electric cars are designed so that the battery is as far as possible from the cars crumple zones.
BATTERY POWERED ELECTRIC VEHICLES Battery powered electric vehicles are exactly that, they are vehicles that are powered by a battery only. This separates it from some other variations of electric cars, in that some electric cars are hybrids. This means that they run off of both gasoline and electric power. Subsequently, both are better for the environment than the gasoline car, but purely battery powered vehicles take society a step closer to being less dependent on fossil fuels than hybrids. As Dr. Budny has said a countless number of times, “Engineers make the impossible possible”  Right now, it may seem like it is a long shot to produce clean electricity so that our net emissions are close to nothing, however, engineers in the future will figure out a way to produce clean energy to reduce our environmental footprint.
Battery electric vehicles are powered by a battery located within the vehicle. The battery in turn powers an electric motor which turns the wheels, according to the Union for Concerned Scientists . When the battery pack is depleted, it can be charged from either a wall outlet or charging station. Specifically, they use a 240-volt outlet that a typical washer or dryer would use. Most of the time, a single charge will last anywhere from seventy to one hundred miles, which typically covers more than a person’s day to day commute. Then, the car should be plugged in whenever the user is done with it so that the car can charge overnight to be ready for its next use . The electricity from those sources generally comes from a stereotypical grid electricity source which can be powered by coal .
The environmental impact from battery electric vehicles is not totally zero, unfortunately. In general, the Union of Concerned Scientists states that the only true emissions that come from using a battery electric vehicle is from the source of generation. However, even if the source of the energy was one that is “dirty” coal, the net emission of the battery electric vehicle would still be less than that of a gasoline powered one . So, if the energy was produced in a “cleaner” way at the source, the emissions from the vehicle would essentially be emission free .
Battery powered electric vehicles have many energy saving features that are used when driven. One example is known as the “idle-off” feature that most electric powered vehicles have today. The Union of Concerned Scientists states that the electric motor that powers your car is turned out when at a stop, but the cars battery that things like your car’s air conditioner use, stays on. This helps to prolong battery life and save on energy costs . Another feature that saves energy costs is the regenerative braking feature. Typical cars use friction to stop the car, thus reducing kinetic energy. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, the regenerative braking feature takes some of this kinetic energy and transfers it back into the battery so it can be used to power the car later .
THE TESLA MODEL S The Tesla brand is one that has gained a lot of hype over the last couple of years. In fact, it boasts one of the most innovative lineup of cars both in an environmental standpoint and technological standpoint. It features many unique things in their cars that many other car companies do not. For instance, the Tesla Model S was designed to be an electric car from the start . Most battery powered electric vehicles are designed with the blueprint of the gasoline car. For example, the battery is in the front. In truth, Tesla was the first company to change the design of cars to make it specific for electric cars. One of the innovations Tesla has worked on is the frame of the car. There is no “engine’ in the front, and the hood is often referred to as the “frunk.” The battery pack is located within the frame. Therefore, through the design of the car and location of the battery pack, the Tesla Model S has an extremely low center of gravity, helping the car stay on the ground . In the Tesla Model S, the battery is found in the center of the car. This leads to the center of gravity is lower and more central, allowing the car to go around turns faster.
The Model S also has many features that one may find in most of today’s luxury cars. One such example, according to Dave Smith, the leader of the technology department of business insider, the Tesla Model S uses radar on the car to track other cars for its autonomous breaking system . This means, that if the driver gets too close to another car on the road, the car will brake for the user. Also, it has a feature where the user can adjust how far behind other cars the user prefers to stay away so the Tesla can adjust accordingly .
The Tesla is also unique because of some key features that the company has added to the battery. In fact, the battery is what separates it from most other battery electric vehicles. According to Tesla, the battery is a cylindrical shaped nickel-cobalt-aluminum-lithium battery, that uses oxidation reactions to give voltage. The chemistry of this battery is what sets it apart, as the energy density is fifty percent greater than similar vehicles . The battery itself has almost twice the fuel cells, allowing twice the reactions to occur. Since twice the reactions can occur, the battery lasts longer than other similar vehicles. Also, the charging times of Tesla batteries is much better when compared to other battery electric vehicles. For instance, the Tesla website says that with a properly charged electric supply, the Tesla charge can equate to thirty miles of range per hour, while the nearest competitor stands at about twenty miles of range per hour .
The Tesla Model S has impressive specifications as far as how long the battery can last. According to Tesla, the battery pack in the car can last up to 125,000 miles for eight years in the sixty kilowatt hours version, and an unlimited amount of distance over eight years in the eighty kilowatt hours version. . A kilowatt hour is a measure of power, or the work one thing can do for every unit of time. The next closest competitor, according to Tesla, is only at a 100,000-mile guarantee. .
Similar to other battery electric vehicles, the Tesla Model S does not have an exhaust and therefore has no emissions . Therefore, when driving the Tesla, the emissions are almost none, depending on where the electrical energy came from. Obviously, the Tesla Model S is an innovative battery electric vehicle that should be considered the standard for future electric powered vehicles. Future engineers should take note of this type of technology and thinking, and should apply it to other areas of the energy industry.
IMPACT ON ENGINEERING The facts given on the emissions of fossil fuels just from gasoline powered cars is staggering. Engineers are people who create something out of nothing. Innovations like the Tesla Model S represent the future for society. Currently, there is a huge market for those in Petroleum engineering. In fact, they are paid one of the highest salaries in all of engineering, making $128,300 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a government agency that researches jobs . Salaries like this indicate that fossil fuels are still in demand. Clearly, they will still be used, but it is up to the engineers to figure out a cleaner solution to the fossil fuel problem. In my opinion, engineers are the only ones who can solve this problem. We are the innovators; therefore, it is our responsibility to leave a cleaner environment for future generations.
As a future chemical engineer, I hope that I can make a lasting impact on society, by working for a company that promotes clean energies. Maybe one day, I can be on a team that invents the next “big technology.” The Tesla Model S is a huge innovation in specifically the automotive industry. If I, and other future engineers apply the principles that Tesla used, then the new products that will result will be safer for the environment. Therefore, we all can live in a cleaner environment, and this will pave the way for our future children.
CONCLUSION The evidence pointing to fossil fuels being the leading cause of global warming is significant. With technological innovations, such as battery powered electric vehicles, and more specifically, the Tesla Model S, humans will live in a cleaner environment. Engineers should take the Tesla Model S and apply its intentions to other fields of engineering so that humanity will live in a cleaner world. Unfortunately, current trends show that technologies like battery powered electric vehicles are not popular among the masses. However, with new technological innovations like the Tesla Model S, we can reduce our environmental impact while still having a functional vehicle.
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Special thanks to Ryan Panza, a junior Penn State engineering student, for introducing me to chemical engineering.
University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering