Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Exploring Fuel Efficiency

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Exploring Fuel Efficiency

Article excerpt

According to Consumer Reports, the national average price per gallon of regular gasoline three years ago was $2.66. Two years ago, it was $3.38. Last February, $3.72 (see "On the web"). In the face of often rising gas prices, fuel-efficient vehicles are increasingly popular. Even buyers of traditional cars make fuel efficiency a priority. With federal fuel economy standards set to rise to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, vehicle makers are focusing on fuel efficiency as well. Many are developing advanced technologies to reduce fuel use beyond current standards (see "On the web").

Although not necessarily part of core science curricula, the topic of fuel efficiency can cover energy concepts with real-world applications. The topic presents a great opportunity for mathematical problem-solving while allowing students to consider personal preferences and priorities as consumers.

Classroom activities

First view several short videos with information about fuel efficiency and alternative fuels (see "On the web"). Then, using a math activity from the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX), have students compute fuel economy (see "On the web"). Digging deeper, students can analyze given information on fuel consumption to determine which of two new car options would save more fuel in the Fuel for Thought activity from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (see "On the web").

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has developed a series of cooperative learning activities entitled Transportation Fuels: The Future Is Today for high school students to evaluate conventional and alternative transportation fuels (see "On the web"). I particularly like the activity in which students calculate payback periods for vehicles. That refers to how long you must own an energy-efficient vehicle before fuel costs saved make up for the higher purchase price.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DOE are required by law to provide consumers with accurate miles per gallon information. Recently, a new design for fuel economy labels was unveiled in which consumers see the vehicle's miles per gallon, energy use, fuel costs, and environmental impacts. (Formerly, the labels only included estimated city and highway miles per gallon, and estimated annual fuel cost.) In the EPA's What's in a Label? activity, students compare fuel economy and environment labels for various vehicles and fuel types (see "On the web"). …

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