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Driving Change: Alternative Fuel Vehicles

The primary use (2/3rds) of oil in the United States is transportation ( ‐ so it makes sense focus efforts to develop technological alternatives to petroleum in the transportation sector. Conveniently, students are far more interested in alternative fuel vehicles than they are in alternative sources of electric energy (wind, solar, hydro.) since they can envision buying a car far more easily than buying a home and making decisions about mundane gas and electric bills. The rapidly growing alternative vehicle market is a perfect lens through which to examine the science and the affordances and constraints of emerging technologies. These technologies fit into the basic categories of a) relying on petroleum sources but improving fuel efficiency and b) exploiting a fuel source other than petroleum (natural gas, hydrogen, biofuels).

This unit is an elongated case study centered around the school’s parking lot. Students will collect and analyze data regarding the current oil and carbon footprint of the lot as a snapshot of modern consumption and complete the necessary research on fuel alternatives to develop an alternate vision of a sustainable parking lot. As a result students will gain an understanding of the limitations of our current transportation technology, the mechanics of the greenhouse effect and climate change, and be able to comparatively analyze the various alternative fuel technologies currently on the U.S. vehicle market.

Galeet Cohen
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