Teaching Students about Clean Fuels and Transportation Technologies

By Busby, Joe; Carpenter, Pam Page | The Technology Teacher, April 2009 | Go to article overview
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Teaching Students about Clean Fuels and Transportation Technologies


Busby, Joe, Carpenter, Pam Page, The Technology Teacher


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Global warming, going green, ethanol, biodiesel, fuel cells, hydrogen combustion, and hybrids are some of the terms being tossed around in mainstream media these days. The grassroots efforts of many environmentalists and concerned citizen groups, Al Gore's (2006) documentary, Ah Inconvenient Truth, on global warming, rising petroleum fuel prices, concerns for dependency on oil, national security, and jobs area few of the issues driving the need to become more informed and involved in going green.

Regardless of a person's convictions and belief system, science has provided a body of knowledge that points to human interaction with nature as being the leading cause of pollution and a variable to the cause of global warming. Some of this knowledge is being debated within the science community, and even more within the mainstream of society. For many, the question of what is fact or fiction is real.

Technology teachers are part of the global solution for educating a greater public about energy inputs, processes, and outputs as indicated in Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (STL) (ITEA, 2000/2002/2007): Standard 5--the effects of technology on the environment, Standard 15--agricultural and related biotechnologies, Standard 16--energy and power technologies, and Standard 18--transportation technologies. Therefore, technology teachers need reliable and basic information about renewable energy technologies to incorporate into their classroom instruction in order to better fulfill STL.

There are many alternative energy and transportation technologies being implemented that will make a positive difference on the environment. Many other technologies that hold great promise are currently in a research and development phase. The following topics are environmentally friendlier energy and transportation technologies that are currently being implemented in various places around the world.

Fuel-Efficient Vehicles

Fuel-efficient vehicles, referred to as FEVs, are determined by the maximum miles per gallon (MPG) and the lowest emissions. Emissions contribute to greenhouse gases, with transportation being the largest contributor to carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]). According to the Energy Information Administration (2007), 98% of C[O.sub.2] is emitted as a product of the combustion of fossil fuels in the United States.

Some vehicles are partial zero-emissions vehicles (PZEVs). An example of a PZEV is the Toyota Prius, a hybrid car that runs on gasoline and batteries. When the Prius is using only battery power, it is said to be a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) because it is not emitting any pollutants into the atmosphere. The batteries have a limited range, so the gasoline internal-combustion engine (ICE) provides most of the power for the auto. When a hybrid's ICE is running, gasoline is burned and emissions ate released into the atmosphere. A hydrogen vehicle is considered a ZEV because its only emission is a harmless water vapor (Air Resources Board, 2004a). This makes it an excellent vehicle to drive to help eliminate greenhouse gases.

In order to achieve clean-air standards, California has enacted strict regulations requiring automobile manufacturers to produce and sell zero-emission vehicles (Air Resource Board, 2004b). These standards can be met by producing and selling a greater number of PZEVs. These regulations will push the automobile industry to create a variety of vehicles with zero and partial emissions.

Alternative Fuels

Alternative fuels are non-petroleum-based fuels and are sources of renewable energy. Alternative fuels include battery power, biodiesel, biomass, ethanol, hydrogen, solar, and wind energy. Most of these renewable energy sources are currently being used to power alternative fuel vehicles and as oxygenates in low-level fuel blends (U.S. Department of Energy, 2008b).

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