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Transportation and the Environment - Virtual Edition

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Engineering

In this workshop, students examine current and potential energy sources used for transportation, learn about fuel cell cars, explore the various types of fuels used in transportation and design their own vehicle.

This workshop discusses topics, which can lead to feelings of eco-anxiety among volunteers, educators and youth if not presented in a thoughtful manner. The most important things to remember are to be honest, hopeful, developmentally appropriate, and action oriented. This workshop was created with these guidelines in mind. For more details, refer to the volunteer resource, Being Conscious of Eco-Anxiety.

What You Need

Student Materials

Physical Requirements

  • To access the virtual links, each student or group will need access to a computer.
  • Access to clear floor space to test their vehicle.

Facilitator Materials

Note: Prior to the workshop, send the materials to the students or arrange with the educator to gather the materials for the students. Provide the educator with a copy of all the handouts and let them decide whether to use the physical handouts or the online links.

Safety Notes

Ensure you are familiar with Let's Talk Science's precautions with respect to safe virtual outreach to youth.

What To Do

Introduction to Energy Sources

In today’s workshop, we are going to be talking about the energy that we use when travelling and looking at the effects that different modes of transportation have on our lives.

Reflection Questions

Note: based on your group's previous knowledge of energy sources and climate change, you may need to add more to the introduction. See the Transportation and the Environment workshop manual for more detailed discussion examples.

  • To begin, provide students with a few moments to reflect on the following questions. Go through each question as a group and ask a few students to share their thoughts [slides 4-6].
    • What are some environmental impacts that driving or taking the bus could have?
    • What are some ways we can decrease the negative impacts that our vehicles which burn fossil fuels are having?
    • What is the difference between renewable energy and non-renewable energy?

Renewable & Non-Renewable Energy

  • Discuss how engines utilize fuel to create kinetic energy [slide 7].
  • Briefly provide an overview of how electric motors work [slide 8].
  • Give students a minute to brainstorm as many different types of energy sources for vehicles as they can. To get them started, ask them questions such as:
    • What types of fuel can you get from a gas station?
    • Are there other types of fuels that you have heard of?
    • What about planes, trains and boats?
  • Have students share some examples of different types of energy sources for vehicles. Keep track to see how many they name from the list [slide 10].
  • Students are going to sort the types of fuel based on how renewable it is. Instruct students to take out their Renewable/Non-Renewable printable worksheet or share the Flippity link [slide 11]. Give them a few minutes to sort the fuels.
    • Note: If working remotely in groups, the students will need to be separated into breakout groups, with one student sharing their screen and moving the pieces around for everyone.
  • Discuss the answers as a group [slide 12].
  • Ask the following questions [slide 13-15]:
    • What surprised you about this distribution?
    • Can a fuel, such as gasoline or diesel, be easily classified as being either renewable or non-renewable?
    • What limits the use of renewable energy sources in transportation?

Fuel Cell Car Demonstration

We are going to explore cars that use water for fuel!

Does anyone know what electrolysis means?

  • Go over the parts of a fuel cell and how it works [slides 19-22].
  • Play the ‘Fuel Cell – Video/Demo’ [slide 23]. Explain what is going on in the video.
  • Discuss the following questions as a group [slides 24 - 25]:
    • What are the pros of fuel cell cars?
    • What are the cons or potential pitfalls of fuel cell cars?

Activity 1: Energy Source Match – Up

Students will identify the energy source used in a variety of vehicles.

  • Instruct students to take out their Transportation and the Environment Worksheet or provide them with the Flippity link [slide 27]. They should also have access to the Sources of Energy for Vehicle information sheet.
    • Note: If working remotely in groups, the students will need to be separated into breakout groups, with one student sharing their screen and moving the pieces around for everyone.
  • They will match up the vehicles to the energy source. Hint: some vehicles will match up with two or more energy sources.
  • Discuss the answers as a group [slide 28].
  • Discuss the following questions [slide 29 – 31]:
    • Which energy sources are used by most vehicles? Why do you think this is?
    • Why do you think all vehicles do not use the same type of fuel?
    • Should all vehicles be made so they can all use the same fuel? What are the pros and cons of this?

Activity 2: Energy Design

There are different forms of potential energy, for this activity we are going to focus on:

  • Gravitational Potential Energy - is the energy that is stored in an object due to the pull of gravity. The amount of energy is mostly due to the weight of the object and how high it is, like a ramp.
  • Elastic Potential Energy - is the energy that is stored in an elastic due to stretching or compressing it. The more the elastic is stretched, the more energy is stored.

Potential energy becomes kinetic energy when the object is in motion.

  • Optional: To further explore potential and kinetic energy, have students explore the PhET Interactive Simulation “Energy Skate Park”. Instruct them to expand the Energy bar graph on the top left of the simulation. This will allow them to see the conversion of energy from potential energy to kinetic energy as they have their skate boarder explore the track.
  • Based on the amount of time available, students will design a vehicle that moves using either gravitational potential energy (with a ramp), elastic potential energy (rubber band car) or renewable energy (wind car). They may also design a renewable energy vehicle that does not move (e.g., solar car with a fake solar panel). Review slide 10 or the Sources of Energy for Vehicles page to help students decide what energy source to use for their renewable energy vehicle. Discuss these options with the educator beforehand.
  • Briefly overview the Design and Build Process [slide 36]. A few things to mention while students are designing, building and testing their vehicle.

Part 1: Designing the Vehicle

  • Students will design a vehicle that uses either a form of potential energy or renewable energy to move [slide 37]. They will sketch out their design on a piece of scrap paper.
  • Students can work in groups or on their own (based on location) to design their vehicle prototype.
    • If working remotely in groups, the students will need to be separated into breakout groups as they work on their design. Each group member should sketch out the design, but decisions on the design should be made as a team.
  • Their design should answer the following questions:
    • How does the vehicle move?
    • What type of energy does the vehicle utilize?
    • How does the vehicle get the energy that it needs?
  • Optional: Have students label the different parts of their design (energy source, wheels, frame, etc.).
  • Optional: Have students brainstorm different ways they can utilize sustainable materials in building a real-life version of their vehicle. They can either research types of sustainable materials or come up with ideas on their own. They can give their vehicle a name too!
  • If they finish designing early, they can start building their prototype.

Part 2: Building a Prototype

  • Using the materials provided or sourced by the educator, students will build a prototype of their vehicle.
  • If their design involves using a ramp or runway (gravitational potential energy), they can use this time to build this as well. They can utilize items found in their classroom (such as a chair, stack of books or shelf) to help make their ramp.
  • Students may use other materials they have available to help build their prototype.
  • If students finish building early, they may try out their prototype and make any improvements before the testing begins.

Part 3: Testing the Prototype

Note: this portion of the workshop is for vehicles that move. Depending on how much time is available, instructions for this activity can be provided to the educator at the end of the workshop or a second virtual visit could be scheduled to help guide students through testing. Discuss these options with the educator prior to the workshop.

  • Instruct students to take out the Vehicle Design Testing Sheet or display slide 40 and have them use a piece of scrap paper to record their results.
  • The educator or students will set up the testing area by designating a start line on a spot on the open floor or at the base of the ramp.
  • When students are ready, they will launch their car and time how long their car is in motion.
  • They will measure the distance from the start line to spot where their car stopped moving.
  • They will record the distance their vehicle travelled and the time in their tracking sheet for Trial 1.
  • They will test their vehicle two more times, for a total of three trials.
  • Using their worksheet, they will calculate the average distance, average time and the average speed of their vehicle. Examples of the calculations are on slides 41 and 42.
  • Optional: Students can make changes to their design to see if they can make their car travel faster.

Wrap-Up

  • Have students share their design and explain how it works/would work.
  • Discuss some of the following questions [slides 44 – 48]:
    • Whose vehicle was the fastest? What did you do?
    • What would you do differently if you had more time? Would you make any changes?
    • How practical would your transportation challenge vehicle be in real life?
    • What type of energy does your vehicle utilize?
    • How does your vehicle get the energy that it needs?
    • Why is it important to develop new ways to travel?
    • What are some things we can do to decrease the negative impact transportation has on the environment?

Allow students to share their answers. Compare their answers to the ones they gave at the beginning of the workshop.

  • Discuss possible careers related to the topics covered and what students would need to do (schooling, experience, etc.) to get into those careers [slides 50 – 52].

Discovery

Energy Source Match-Up

Fuels are materials that store potential energy in a form that can be released and used as heat energy. In most fuels, this potential energy is stored in the bonds of molecules that make up the fuel (chemical potential energy). To release this stored energy, most fuels undergo a chemical reaction called a combustion reaction. In this type of reaction, a fuel reacts with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and water. Combustion reactions also release a lot of heat, which can be converted into mechanical energy in the engine and transferred to other moving parts such as wheels and propellers as for movement (kinetic energy).

Fuels may be solid (wood, coal, etc.), liquid (gasoline, diesel, ethanol, etc.) or gas (propane, natural gas, hydrogen, etc.). Vehicles have different types of engines and each engine uses a specific type of fuel. For example, very large vehicles have engines that require a lot of energy and require energy dense fuels such as heavy fuel oil or diesel fuel. Most of the fuels we use in vehicles today can be sorted into two categories – petroleum-based (fossil fuels) and biofuels (such as ethanol and biodiesel).

Fuel Cell Cars

Electrolysis is the change in energy from electrical energy to chemical energy. This happens when an electric current is applied to a liquid or gas. Fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into electric power. Their only byproducts are water and a little bit of heat (compared to the toxic byproduct of a dry cell battery). In a real world application, the water can be left to evaporate or drop onto the road.

Fuel cells work by separating hydrogen into electrons (e-) and protons (H+). The protons flow through the cell while the electrons flow through the circuit to power a motor (for example). At the other end, a reaction combines the protons (H+), the electrons (e-), and oxygen (O) to make water (H2O).

In the demonstration video, a battery is used as the source of electricity to power the fuel cell. In real applications, it would not make sense to use a battery to charge up the fuel cell and then run the fuel cell. Instead, greener sources of hydrogen, such as wind power or solar panels, would be used. The hydrogen created in this way could be distributed in fueling stations just like how we distribute gasoline. 

Transportation heavily relies on the burning of fossil fuels, which increases greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to climate change. Scientists are exploring ways to use renewable resources to generate power for vehicles to reduce the environmental impact of transportation.

What's Happening?

Energy Source Match-Up

Fuels are materials that store potential energy in a form that can be released and used as heat energy. In most fuels, this potential energy is stored in the bonds of molecules that make up the fuel (chemical potential energy). To release this stored energy, most fuels undergo a chemical reaction called a combustion reaction. In this type of reaction, a fuel reacts with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and water. Combustion reactions also release a lot of heat, which can be converted into mechanical energy in the engine and transferred to other moving parts such as wheels and propellers as for movement (kinetic energy).

Fuels may be solid (wood, coal, etc.), liquid (gasoline, diesel, ethanol, etc.) or gas (propane, natural gas, hydrogen, etc.). Vehicles have different types of engines and each engine uses a specific type of fuel. For example, very large vehicles have engines that require a lot of energy and require energy dense fuels such as heavy fuel oil or diesel fuel. Most of the fuels we use in vehicles today can be sorted into two categories – petroleum-based (fossil fuels) and biofuels (such as ethanol and biodiesel).

Fuel Cell Cars

Electrolysis is the change in energy from electrical energy to chemical energy. This happens when an electric current is applied to a liquid or gas. Fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into electric power. Their only byproducts are water and a little bit of heat (compared to the toxic byproduct of a dry cell battery). In a real world application, the water can be left to evaporate or drop onto the road.

Fuel cells work by separating hydrogen into electrons (e-) and protons (H+). The protons flow through the cell while the electrons flow through the circuit to power a motor (for example). At the other end, a reaction combines the protons (H+), the electrons (e-), and oxygen (O) to make water (H2O).

In the demonstration video, a battery is used as the source of electricity to power the fuel cell. In real applications, it would not make sense to use a battery to charge up the fuel cell and then run the fuel cell. Instead, greener sources of hydrogen, such as wind power or solar panels, would be used. The hydrogen created in this way could be distributed in fueling stations just like how we distribute gasoline. 

Why Does It Matter?

Transportation heavily relies on the burning of fossil fuels, which increases greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to climate change. Scientists are exploring ways to use renewable resources to generate power for vehicles to reduce the environmental impact of transportation.

Investigate Further