Lively Lessons: Alternative Fuels

livelylessons_featuredIn this week’s Lively Lesson we are celebrating Earth Day by looking at alternative fuel options. Most people expect cars to run on gasoline, but now there are hybrid electric, solar cars, and others that use unusual energy sources.  Some vehicles are even using French fry oil to keep them running.

Open the lesson with a class discussion about how cars, trucks, busses and semi’s get energy. You may have students list the various types of fuel- gasoline & diesel and they may bring up solar and electric powered cars as well. Ask students if they have ever heard of biodiesel. You might have students break down the word in to parts in order to determine the meaning.

Have students explore Biodiesel fuel by watching the video segment My Truck Smells Like French Fries:  In this segment students learn how Biodiesel fuel recycles cooking oil by taking the byproduct of cooking anything greasy or with oil, and combining it with a small quantity of diesel fuel. Stop the video segment at 6:20.

After watching the video segment have students complete a Quick Write activity (see the full Quick Write SOS here). First, ask students to take out a blank sheet of paper. Explain that they will have 60 seconds to write as many facts and/or adjectives about the segment. After the 60 seconds have lapsed, ask students to turn to their neighbor and share what is on their list. Now, provide students another 60 seconds to expand a few of their phrases or add additional facts based on something they learned from their partner.Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 3.18.38 PM

Next, have students find a new partner.  Explain that you are about to ask a series of questions regarding the segment.  If they have a fact on either their papers that provides evidence to support an answer they should highlight it and raise their hands. Provide 30-60 seconds after asking each question for students to find supporting evidence.  Share out answers whole group.

  • Where does crude oil come from?
  • What products can be made from crude oil?
  • What are some negatives of using crude oil?
  • Why might Biofuel be a better options?

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 3.12.29 PMThen, have students read the CNN article “Can Vegetable-Oil Cars Save the World?” Answer the following questions about the article:

  • What type of engine can be converted to vegetable oil fuel?
  • What was the cost in 2006 to convert a truck to veggie oil fuel?
  • What cost implications should be considered when converting and running a vehicle fueled to veggie oil fuel?
  • How much vegetable oil waste was there is 2006?


Finally, have your students complete one of the assignments, below:

  • Option One: Have students research alternative fuel sources for vehicles. Have them create a graph comparing at least three sources, one of which should be vegetable oil. The graph should compare how many vehicles are using the three sources, and what the costs are for each.
  • Option Two: Have students draw what they envision as an alternative fuel vehicle.  The design can be creative, but they must also draw how the engine works and converts the fuel to energy.
  • Option Three: Have students determine how much vegetable oil they use daily at home. As a class, have them calculate how much oil they would be able to collect in one month. Would it be enough to run a vehicle? Why or why not? Have them ask their parents about their opinion on whether they might choose a vegetable oil running car and why or why not.


Check out the additional resources on Fossil Fuels and alternative fuels, belowbiodiesel

The Carbon Cycle- Fossil Fuels: Addresses the effect that human use of fossil fuels has had and continues to have on the planet.

New Biofuel: Canola: Hear from a small energy company in Virginia that believes canola-based biofuels will end America’s dependence on oil.

Bio-Fuel- Growing Fuel from Plants: Discusses a new way in which oil can be created and harvested.

BioFuels on the racetrack: Gasoline powered cars compete against autos running on biofuels and other alternative energy sources.

Additional resources from Discovery Education

Check out all of the Earth Day activities on the blog


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