Petroleum black gold

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Transportation Fuels: The Future is Today
For more than a century, petroleum has been the lifeblood of our transportation system. In the United States alone, we use more than 13 million barrels (that’s 403 million gallons!) of oil each day to keep us on the move. It's no wonder that petroleum is often referred to as "black gold."
No one can argue the importance of the automobile in modern society. Driving has become an important part of our daily lives. In fact, Americans drive their personal vehicles about 4 trillion miles a year. Commercial trucks drive 183 billion miles and buses drive 6.5 billion. There are a lot of vehicles racking up that kind of mileage: 203,000,000 personal vehicles, 7,000,000 commercial trucks and 700,000 buses.

These vehicles require fuels that are economical and convenient. Today, about 98 percent of the vehicles in the U.S. are powered by petroleum or diesel fuel. America's vast transportation network of refineries, pipelines, and service stations has been designed for petroleum fuels. But there are problems with using petroleum.

Today, the United States imports about two-thirds of its petroleum from other countries, about twice as much as during the oil embargoes of the 1970s, when American drivers waited in lines for hours to buy gasoline. These oil shocks and the Persian Gulf War made Americans painfully aware of the dangers of depending on foreign oil, a danger that still exists today. Though our oil supply might seem stable today, the unrest in the Middle East could cause shortages or much higher prices at any time.
Auto manufacturers have done a good job of reducing emissions from vehicles. Since the 1960s, when controls were first introduced, emissions from vehicles have been reduced by more than 95 percent. Even though pollutants represent less than one percent of the fuel consumed, the large number of cars and growing quantities of fuel they use result in emissions that constitute major health and environmental concerns. Although per-vehicle emissions continue to decrease and average vehicle mileage increases, people keep driving more miles in more vehicles.
The millions of cars, trucks, and buses on the road today contribute half or more of the air pollution in many metropolitan areas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, almost one-half of all people in the U.S. live in areas that are not in compliance with federal air quality standards. This has led to a concerted effort to develop alternatives to petroleum fuels.


On and off-road motor vehicles can be powered by fuels other than gasoline and diesel. Alternative fuels such as propane, natural gas, methanol, ethanol, biodiesel and electricity can help reduce our nation's oil consumption and dependence on foreign oil, as well as reduce the transportation sector's impact on the environment.

Each of these alternative fuels has advantages and disadvantages and may be better suited to some regions and transportation needs than others. Every year, the role of these fuels expands considerably and people have the choice of a larger variety of alternative fuel vehicles.

The state of Connecticut is developing a plan to reduce emissions from vehicles--including personal vehicles, school buses, public buses, sanitation trucks, police and emergency vehicles, and the state’s fleet of automobiles.

As a first step towards developing this plan, you are being asked to do research on six of the most promising alternative fuels, identify the advantages and disadvantages of each, and make recommendations based on your findings.
To accomplish this task, you will work in teams, as assigned by your teacher. Each team will be assigned a different alternative fuel to investigate. The six alternative fuels that will be investigated are: Biodiesel, Electricity, Ethanol, Hydrogen, Natural Gas, and Propane.
The following table provides an overview of the steps involved in this project.
Overview of the Transportation Fuels Project



  1. Plan

Work with your team to plan how you will complete the project.

  1. Research

Gather information about your alternative fuel from at least 3 reliable sources.

  1. Learn

Study and take notes from the information you’ve collected to learn more about your alternative fuel.

  1. Prepare

Prepare slides and a script for your portion of the presentation. Integrate your slides with the others from your team to create a complete presentation.

  1. Practice

Practice the presentation with your team. Give and receive feedback to make your presentation even better.

  1. Teach

Your team will teach others by presenting to the class.

50 points, see rubric for grading criteria.

  1. Learn

As other groups teach, complete a graphic organizer with information about the other alternative fuels.

  1. Write

Write an essay comparing and contrasting two of the alternative fuels you learned about in class.

50 points, see rubric for grading criteria.

Details of Transportation Fuels Project

 when complete

STEP 1: Plan

With your team, discuss how you will complete the project. Break the project down into 4 parts. An individual member of the team will be responsible for each part (A-D):

  1. Technology – completely describe the fuel, how it is made, and what it is made from; trace the fuel to its source

  2. Economics – explain whether the fuel is renewable or non-renewable, its cost, distribution and availability

  3. Advantages – describe the advantages of this fuel, including environmental benefits

  4. Disadvantages – describe the disadvantages of this fuel, including environmental drawbacks

Step 2: Research

Work together to gather information about your alternative fuel. Before you begin, brainstorm a list of questions to consider as you look for information.

For example:

  • What is the chemical composition of the fuel?

  • Is the fuel available in your area? If not, how long will it be before it is practical to use this fuel?

  • What types of vehicles can use the fuel?

  • What are the costs associated with the fuel?

  • What are the challenges to developing a widespread market for the fuel?

  • Would you buy a vehicle that uses the fuel? Why or why not?

You must use and cite at least 3 reliable sources. Suggested Internet sources:

  • U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center

  • U.S. Department of Energy Vehicle Technologies Program

  • Alternative Fuels Information

  • A Student’s Guide to Alternative Fuel Vehicles

  • PBS Newshour Reports on Alternative Fuels

Step 3: Learn

  • Study and take notes from the information you’ve collected to learn about your alternative fuel.

  • Prepare a brief outline for your portion of the presentation.

  • As a group, review everyone’s notes to ensure that you have all the necessary information. If some information is still needed, make sure someone volunteers to find it!

Step 4: Prepare

  • Students will have the option of preparing a Keynote Presentation or creating a podcast/flyer.

Keynote Presentation

  • Each individual should prepare 2 or 3 slides, and a script (what you will say) to go with their slides.

  • Prepare the presentation using Apple Keynote presentation software. Create an interesting presentation that includes images and text.

  • Choose a Keynote template that everyone on your team agrees to use.

  • Combine your slides with the others from your team to create a complete presentation. Make sure the presentation and the script cover the same information.

  • The presentation should include an Introduction slide and a Summary slide.

  • The entire presentation should take from five to ten minutes.

  • See rubric for details.


  • Each individual should prepare part of a script in which they will record as an audio mp3 file. This will then be transferred to a podcast (see teacher for assistance.)

  • The podcast should last about five to ten minutes.

  • Each student will also contribute to the creation of a brochure or flyer depicting the major points of the podcast. This will be created digitally, so that it may be posted on the wikipage.

  • See rubric for more details.

Step 5: Practice

  • Practice your part of the presentation so that you don't have to read it directly from the cards. One strategy is to write the important information on note cards that you can refer to during the presentation.

  • Practice the entire presentation as a team.

Step 6: Teach

  • Teach others by presenting your information to the class.

  • Your part of the presentation, and the work you have done leading up to it, will be graded using the “Student Presentation Rubric.”

Step 7: Learn

  • As other groups present, complete a graphic organizer (template provided) with information about the other alternative fuels.

  • Take good notes, because you will need them for the next step…

Step 8: Write an essay

  • Each individual will write an essay comparing and contrasting two of the alternative fuels we have learned about (you may use your assigned fuel as one of the two).

  • The essay will be written in class.

  • You may use only your graphic organizer as a resource to help you with your essay.

  • The essay will be graded using a rubric that will be provided in advance.

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