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Redesigning a Car for the Environment (13 Favorites)

LESSON PLAN in Interdisciplinary, Culminating Project, Balancing Equations, Combustion, Stoichiometry, Dimensional Analysis, Heat of Combustion. Last updated October 30, 2019.


Chemland’s city public transportation board has requested the class to help them determine the direction the city should move towards in reducing the carbon footprint. Students will be divided into groups and will come up with proposals of how to reduce the carbon footprint from carbon dioxide released from vehicles. The groups will represent different ways to reduce the carbon footprint via an alternative fuel source or a new technology. They will debate their findings to determine the direction that the city council should move towards to reduce the carbon footprint.

Grade Level

High school

NGSS Alignment

This lesson will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • HS-PS1-7: Use mathematical representations to support the claims that atoms, and therefore mass are conserved during a chemical reaction.
  • HS-ESS3-2: Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.
  • HS-ESS3-4: Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.
  • HS-ETS1-1: Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
  • HS-ETS1-3: Evaluate a solution to a complex real – world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Asking Questions and Defining Problems
    • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
    • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
    • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
    • Engaging in Argument from Evidence


By the end of this lesson, students should be able to

  • Describe the pros and cons of developing new technology for improving carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Debate the societal and environmental impacts of using fuel sources.
  • Use stoichiometry and dimensional analysis to calculate quantities of specified reactants and products from a chemical equation.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of

  • Chemical Reactions
  • Combustion Reactions
  • Energy
  • Heat of Combustion
  • Stoichiometry
  • Dimensional Analysis
  • Fuel Types
  • Electrochemistry


Teacher Preparation: less than 30 minutes (ensure hyperlinks are still active)


  • Engage: 30 to 40 minutes
  • Explore: 60 minutes
  • Explain: 30 minutes
  • Elaborate: 60-90 minutes
  • Evaluate: 30-60 minutes


  • Projector and computer to show video clips
  • Internet enabled devices for research
  • Poster board for presentation

Teacher Notes

This resource could be used as a post-AP Chemistry exam activity.

Engage: Ask the students if they know how a car works. Also ask if they know the difference between gas and diesel fuel and question whether or not diesel fuel can be used in a gas engine. Next, show the video clip that compares the two types of engines and talk about complete and incomplete combustion.

  • Video: Differences between gas and diesel engines – This short video discusses the differences between a diesel and gasoline engine and also analyzes the amount of energy produced from each type of fuel.
  • Use this animation to show how a car engine works.
  • Assign students to groups of 4—see student groups explained in the Explore section. Students in each group will then work on the pre-lab questions. Each student in the group should be assigned a set of 5 questions for a particular country, so each student in the group will be working on a different set of questions. This way the class can compare the usage of oil from various counties. The countries are: the United States, China, the United Kingdom, and India. If the number of students in your class does not work out to have 5 groups of 4, it will work to have larger groups, and assign multiple students in a group to work on the same country problem set. If groups are smaller, just ensure that each country problem set are completed by at least 2 students in the class. All students should complete the same questions 6-13.
  • Answer key for pre-lab questions:
  US China UK India
1a 8.15 x 108 gal/ day 8.15 x 108 gal/ day 8.15 x 108 gal/ day 8.15 x 108 gal/ day
1b 6.1 x 10-2 bar/person 7.2 x 10-3 bar/person 1.9 x 10-2 bar/person 2.8 x 10-3 bar/person
1c 2.56 gal /person 0.30 gal /person 0.78 gal /person 0.118 gal /person
2 1210MJ 1210MJ 1210MJ 1210MJ
3 42.9kJ/g 42.9kJ/g 42.9kJ/g 42.9kJ/g
4 1470MJ 1470MJ 1470MJ 1470MJ
5 46.7kJ/g 46.7kJ/g 46.7kJ/g 46.7kJ/g
6 2 C8H18  +  25 O   16 CO2  +  18 H2O
7 2:16 or 1:8
8 240 gallons = 908.4L = 654kg              2.02 x 106 g of CO2
9 600 gallons = 2,271L = 1,635kg            5.05 x 106 g of CO2
10 2 C16H34  +  39 O   32 CO2  +  34H2O
11 2:32 or 1:16
12 300 gallons = 1,135.5L = 944.7kg         2.94 x 106 g of CO2
13 8,333 gallons = 31,541L = 26,242kg    8.17 x 107 g of CO2
  • Question Students: Do we get to use all that energy for driving the car?  Why or why not?  Have a discussion about the efficiency of a car and cars engine.  Show this video (Fuel Emissions - Gas, Ethanol, E85 and Kerosene) about comparing the various types of fuels.
  • Ask the students what they think could be done?  What have they heard on the news about lowering the emissions of various cars?  What do you think could be done to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions.

Explore: A city public transportation board has requested the class to help them determine the direction the city should move towards in reducing the carbon footprint.  The class will come up with proposals of how to reduce the carbon footprint from carbon dioxide emissions released from vehicles.  The class will be divided into various groups that will represent different ways of trying to reduce the carbon footprint via an alternative fuel source or a new technology.  

  • Group 1 – Hydrogen Fuel Cells
  • Group 2 – Ethanol Fuel
  • Group 3 – Electric / Hybrid Cars
  • Group 4 – Redesigning the engine
  • Group 5 – city council if there are more students and you do not want to have huge research groups.

In the student section of the activity, there are links that each group could use to start their research on the topics.

Explain: Students will discuss and analyze their method of reducing carbon dioxide emissions to their group to come up with a unified stance for their technology or alternative fuel.

Elaborate: The class will debate the pros of their alternative fuel or technology to figure out which is the best direction the city’s transportation department should go with to cut the carbon dioxide emissions.

Evaluate: After the debate, the class will come up with the direction the city should move forward and why.

For the Student

Download the Student Activity from the "Downloads box" at the top of the page.