By Marina Baracos
Shifting the modern transportation paradigm to a more sustainable model is one of the most pressing issues in the field of Engineering. Two nations that are the primary focus of the issue are the United States and the People’s Republic of China. In many ways, these two countries are at two different ends of the spectrum of this issue. The United States is experiencing a transportation crisis due to the fact that the ratio of cars outnumbers that of people, and the infrastructure is ill-suited to the current number of cars on the road, (List of countries by vehicles per capita, WorldLibrary.org, 2018), a result of a prolonged period of mass suburbanization. Consequentially, the way the U.S has built its cities is centered around the idea that the car is required for even the most simplistic errands. Therefore, the need for more cars and long-distance transportation is built into the city structure, vastly increasing carbon emissions. However, in China, the exact opposite problem is unfolding, with a population density being so high that it is very difficult to have even a few cars on the road without there being major safety concerns. Pollution is already a major concern within many Chinese cities, and the air quality is so poor the many citizens have to wear face masks on a daily basis to avoid the inhalation of particulate matter. In each case, the transportation infrastructure is ill-suited to the population and the methods of mobility that are currently being used. Therefore, significant changes in structure must be made in order for these major powers to change their efficiency in a way that allows for the creation of a sustainable and resilient environment for their inhabitants.
I believe that a method of fixing overcrowded transportation would lie in reducing the size of the transport used in large cities. Not only would this fix the problem of our infrastructure being unable to support so many large vehicles, but it would also provide a method of transportation that is more efficient than walking or biking to individuals who are unable to purchase or drive a car. The ideal form for this type of transportation would be a moped. A moped is a small vehicle that takes on a form that is similar to that of a motorcycle but is overall more accessible to those who are unfamiliar with riding or unable to ride a motorcycle. Mopeds are much more compact and are overall easier to control and balance. Therefore, it would be beneficial in cities where finding storage and providing opportunities for transportation may be difficult. A standard moped uses a combustion engine to obtain power. Combustion engines are dependent on a fuel substance to catalyze a chemical reaction that powers the engine of a machine, often a car or other vehicle. The fuel, in this case, is the issue, as gasoline emissions from transportation are the number one source of greenhouse gases in the environment. Thus, another energy source must also be a component of solving this issue. (All-Electric Vehicles, Fueleconomy.gov.) In recent years, there have been innovations in batteries that function in the same manner as lithium-ion batteries but use less caustic and environmentally damaging substances, such as saltwater. Within a lithium-ion battery, the polarization of the substance within the battery is transferred between a cathode and an anode, and through this distribution, chemical energy is created and can be stored within the battery. (Battery University, Lithium-ion Safety Concerns. 2018) This can then be released in the form of electrical energy to power what the battery is connected to. In 2017, I was able to speak to Sneha Shanbhag, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University, who was working on an environmentally responsible lithium-ion alternative as part of her graduate research. What is beneficial about this type of battery is that it is able to hold an immense amount of energy for its size, making it much easier to produce, transport, and implement within a device, without any immense environmental repercussions. She partnered with a company known as Aquion Energy to develop a working prototype, and, as of July 2017, the battery’s design was still being actively tested for efficiency.
Another component that is a key issue of the transportation crisis is lack of parking. Our current means of transportation are fairly difficult to house effectively, and as the number of cars and these larger vehicles increase, the need to create other establishments such as parking garages also increases. In turn, we may also be increasing our carbon footprint by the removal of natural areas to make way for these structures. With smaller vehicles such as mopeds, storage is not as much of problem, since more mopeds can fit into the space of a parking garage than can cars. By incorporating a means of transportation that occupies less space and rivals the efficiency of larger vehicles, we can aid with both the lack of transportation and the surplus of larger modes of transportation, therefore leading to a more balanced world system and creating more accessibility to those who might not be able to or afford to drive a car.
In conclusion, the issue of transportation is one that affects the world in a drastic manner. While both the United States and China are at polar ends of the issue, implementing a solution for both would require cooperation and development of more compact and more efficient modes of transport. The design of something as compact and readily available as a moped, as well as an efficient and versatile energy source, would be a key way to solve this issue. By implementing a new, more versatile system of transport, we are able to adapt in a way that benefits our current infrastructure and will definitely improve it for our future.
All-Electric Vehicles. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2018, from
Lombardo, T. (2017, March 05). Your Next Car Will NOT Be Solar Powered. Retrieved January 10, 2018, from http://www.engineering.com/ElectronicsDesign/ElectronicsDesignArticles/ArticleID/14433/Your-Next-Car-Will-NOT-Be-Solar-Powered.aspx.
List of countries by vehicles per capita. (2018, January 05). Retrieved January 10, 2018, from
Lithium-ion Safety Concerns. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2018, from