The Green Teen Driver



Grade Level & Subject: 9-12; Science, Technology

Length: 2 class periods


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe different alternative fuels
  • Compare the benefits and disadvantages of several different vehicles
  • Define characteristics that make a vehicle green

National Standards Addressed:[1]

The following National Science Education Standards come from the National Academies of Science:

As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop:

  • Abilities of technological design
  • Understandings about science and technology
  • Content Standard: NS. 9-12.6 Personal and Social Perspectives
  • Science as a human endeavor
  • Nature of scientific knowledge
  • Historical perspectives

The followingNational Education Technology Standards come from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

▪    Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed     


Materials Needed:

  • Access to Internet (or printed background information)
  • Access to phone (if Internet service not available)
  • Reproducible #1 – Car Buyer Worksheet
  • Reproducible #2 – Alternative Fuels

Students will be assessed through the following activities:

  • Participation in class discussion and class activities
  • Completion of worksheets
  • Evaluate students’ presentations with a rubric that addresses the following questions:
  • Did the group present its information in a serious and mature manner?
  • Did the group provide clear details from its research to illustrate its points?
  • Did the students use any interesting and easy-to-understand visual aids?



Relevant Vocabulary:

  • Alternative Fuel: any type of fuel made from non-conventional materials, as opposed to conventional fuel materials such as petroleum (definition varies depending on the context)[2]
  • Biodiesel: a fuel that is similar to diesel fuel and is derived from usually vegetable sources (as soybean oil)[3]
  • Carbon Monoxide:  a colorless odorless very toxic gas CO that is formed as a product of the incomplete combustion of carbon or a carbon compound[4]
  • Flex-fuel: a designation of vehicles that can run on a high blend of gasoline-ethanol, up to 85% ethanol[5]
  • Hybrid (automobiles): a vehicle that has two different types of components performing essentially the same function[6]
  • Hydrogen: a nonmetallic element that is the simplest and lightest of the elements and that is normally a colorless odorless highly flammable diatomic gas; may be used as a source of fuel[7]
  • MPG/Fuel Economy:the imperial unit of measurement for the rate at which fuel is consumed in an automobile, defined in terms of distance traveled per volume of fuel expended[8]
  • Natural Gas: gas issuing from the earth's crust through natural openings or bored wells; a combustible mixture of methane and other hydrocarbons used chiefly as a fuel and raw material[9]
  • Nitrogen Oxide:any of several oxides of nitrogen most of which are produced in combustion and are considered to be atmospheric pollutants[10]
  • Ozone:A triatomic very reactive form of oxygen that is a bluish irritating gas of pungent odor, that is a major air pollutant in the lower atmosphere but a beneficial component of the upper atmosphere, and that is used for oxidizing, bleaching, disinfecting, and deodorizing[11]

Background Information:

How we love our cars, especially the gasoline powered ones! As we’ve all seen recently, the cost of gasoline has risen along with the demand for oil.  Consumer desires have shifted in recent years, driven by an increased interest in personal environmental impact and a desire for better fuel economy.  Congress and car manufacturers are looking at many alternative fuels that can reduce our dependence on oil, costs, and our environmental impact.  

Gasoline-powered vehicles are responsible for many greenhouse gases that ultimately contribute to global warming. Statistics show that for each gallon of gasoline burned, 20 pounds of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

Driving a “green” vehicle helps reduce air pollution AND saves on gas costs. Many new cars are designed to use alternative fuels, which could include: biodiesel, electricity, natural gas, and hydrogen. Buying green is the first step to reducing the environment affects of automobile use.  Your choice of vehicle is the most important, but how you drive and how well you maintain your vehicle will also make a difference.

Some types of automobile alternative fuels are biodiesel, ethanol, electricity, hydrogen, and natural gas. Biodiesel is a renewable alternative fuel produced from a wide range of vegetable oils and animal fats. Pure biodiesel or biodiesel blended with petroleum diesel can be used to fuel diesel vehicles. Like biodiesel, ethanol,is a biofuel meaning it was produced directly from renewable, biological matter.Ethanol can be derived from many different plants including corn, sugarcane, and switchgrass making it an ideal locally producible fuel. Electricity can be used to power electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles directly from the power grid. Vehicles that run on electricity produce no tailpipe emissions. The only emissions that can be attributed to electricity are those generated in the production process at the power plant. Electricity is easily accessible for short-range driving. Hydrogen may be used in hydrogen fuel-cell cars. It has the potential to revolutionize transportation and, possibly, our entire energy system. The simplest and most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen can be produced from fossil fuels and biomass and even by electrolyzing water. Producing hydrogen with renewable energy and using it in fuel cell vehicles holds the promise of virtually pollution-free transportation and independence from imported petroleum. Natural Gas includes any variety of gaseous simple hydrocarbons such as methane. It is a domestically produced alternative fuel and is readily available to end users through the utility infrastructure. It can produce significantly fewer harmful emissions than gasoline or diesel when used in natural gas vehicles because it burns cleanly.


  • Mobile Source Emissions – Past, Present, Future U.S.Environmental Protection Agency

A review of air pollutants caused by mobile sources, such as Carbon Monoxide, Ozone, Nitrogen Oxide, etc.

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

  • A Student’s Guide to Alternative Fuel Vehicles California Energy Commission

  • American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

A website full of green driving information and maintenance tips.



Warm-up: Auto Shopping

  1. Engage students with the following questions about car buying:
  2. How many of you hope to buy your own car within the next few years? Most students will probably raise their hands.
  3. What will you consider when getting a car? Age of car, cost, mileage, condition of vehicle, reliability, fuel economy, aesthetics, features, safety, mechanical soundness, engine performance, brand name, vehicle class, gasoline powered or alternative fuel.
  4. Inform students that they will be researching some possible cars to buy and will consider “green factors.”

Activity One: Researching Green Cars

Buying a car is a big decision and it requires some comparison-shopping. Using either the Internet or phoning/emailing a car “seller”, students will research three vehicles to consider for purchase.

  1. Discuss the following questions:
  2. What are some vehicles that they have heard of that might be considered green because they use alternative fuels and why? Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, Honda Civic GX, Volkswagen Jetta TDI, Chevy Tahoe Flex-fuel. The Prius is a gasoline-electric hybrid car that uses an oversized battery to power its drivetrain during lighter driving. In heavy driving conditions, the gasoline engine powers the car. The Volt is also a hybrid but in a different sense from the Prius. A battery powers the car for the first several dozen miles, and when the battery is depleted a gasoline generator kicks in a recharges the battery. The Nissan Leaf is a purely electric car. The Civic GX is a car that runs on compressed natural gas, and the Jetta TDI is a diesel car that can run mixtures of biodiesel. The Tahoe Flex-fuel is an SUV that can run on a mixture of ethanol, up to 85%.
  3. What is an alternative fuel? A type of fuel used for vehicles other than conventional fuels such as petroleum gasoline or diesel.
  4. What are the characteristics of a green vehicle? How much gas it uses (mpg), the cost of fuel, and how much air pollution it puts out, the type of fuel it uses, the quality of the fuel it uses.
  5. What does it mean to be fuel-efficient? A fuel-efficient vehicle is able to travel long distances while using minimal fuel. In general, hybrid and electric vehicles tend to be more fuel-efficient that gasoline vehicles.
  6. Tell students that they are going to be shopping for different types of cars to consider purchasing. In small groups of two to four people, they will look at typical features when buying a car, such as condition and year of the car. Students need to also consider what it means to be environmentally conscious car buyer. The cars that students research can be any model and year, new or used, but one car MUST be a vehicle that uses alternative fuel.
  7. Distribute Reproducible #1 – Car Buyer Worksheet. Have groups complete their worksheet and decide which vehicle they would actually purchase and why.
  8. When all the groups are finished ask each group to share their car purchasing decision with the class.

Activity Two: Alternative Fuel Research

  1. Merge the groups of students into larger groups and instruct students that they now must research the various “alternative fuels” available to car buyers.
  2. Assign each group one of the “alternative fuels” listed in the “Information” section. There will be multiple groups researching the same alternative fuel.  Students can research not only the benefits of the fuel, but also the distribution and availability in their area. Students should ask questions such as: what good is a car that uses hydrogen for fuel if the closest portal is across the country? Another point to make with students is the fact that “alternative fuels” are making inroads into our American culture, but oftentimes the inroads have been in the government or private sector.  Some of the fuels are not readily available for consumers across the nation.
  3. Allow time for the groups to research their “fuel” in more detail. Have groups record their research on the Reproducible #2 – Alternative Fuels.
  4. Finally, ask each group to “present” their sales pitch for their fuel to the rest of the class.  Encourage students to be scientific, creative, and persuasive in their “pitch.”  Wrap up the activity by asking the class which alternative fuel might be best for their situation/car they chose for purchase in Activity One.

Wrap Up: Discussion

  1. Why are alternative fuels important? They help reduce environmental impact and limit foreign sources of energy (increase energy market stability).
  2. Why do you think the marker for alternative fuels is not growing faster than it is? Oil companies have a large say in the energy economy, alternative fuels tend to be less efficient, and automakers are hesitant to produce lots of alternative fuel cars, wariness from consumers about alternative fuel vehicles.
  3. What other types of alternative fuels (besides the ones researched) do you think should be considered? Solar, wind¸biomass powered cars.
  4. Will environmental impact be a large factor in determining what car(s) you will purchase in the future? Answers will vary, but hopefully they will answer yes!

Extension: Green Living

Certainly buying green is just the first step in reducing the environmental impact of a vehicle.  Now, have students think of other ways to be a green driver.  Those not able to purchase a greener car can still reduce their eco-footprint by practicing green driving habits.

  1. As a class, students can brainstorm a list of “green” driving habits such as: follow the speed limit, combine trips, reduce excessive driving, and keep tires properly inflated.  Did you know that driving 75 mph instead of 65 mph will lower your fuel economy by about 10 percent, and can increase tailpipe pollution in many vehicles? For green driver and maintenance tips, log onto:
  2. Consider working with the Driver Education program or one of the school’s service clubs to get the “green driver” tips out to the rest of the student body.



As gas prices soar and our dependence on foreign oil becomes more and more apparent, the younger generation will be a driving force in determining the future of the car industry. If young people demand greener, more fuel-efficient cars, then the car manufacturers will listen and create more environmentally friendly vehicles. This lesson helps to teach students about the different alternative fuels being used and the vehicles currently on the market that run on these fuels. By learning more about both, students will hopefully be more informed to make greener purchasing decisions later in life when they buy a car.



The Clean Air Campaign, Inc. – Author

Nicole Holstein – Contributor

            Education Intern, Earth Day Network

Maggie Ollove – Editor

Education Associate, Earth Day Network

[2]“Alternative Fuels.” Alternative Fuels. New York City Government. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. < >.

[3]“Biodiesel Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 15 April 2011 from

[4]“Carbon Monoxide Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 15 April 2011 from

[5]“Flex-fuel Vehicles.” Fuel Economy. U.S. Department of Energy, 15 Apr. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. <>.

[6]“Hybrid Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 15 April 2011 from

[7]“Hydrogen Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 15 April 2011 from

[8]"Basic Information | Fuel Economy | US EPA." US Environmental Protection Agency. US EPA, 4 Mar. 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. <>.

[9]“Natural Gas Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 15 April 2011 from

[10]“Nitrogen Oxide Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 15 April 2011 from

[11]“Ozone Entry.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 15 April 2011 from