65 How will cars be fuelled in the future? Post 16 Working in groupsSelf assessmentPeer assessmentSharing objectives and criteriaQuestioningUsing feedbackUsing tests

In this activity, a role play introduces students to fuels other than petrol for cars.

These activities can follow on from Where does energy come from?

Learning objectives

Students will:

  • recognise that hydrogen and a petrol-battery hybrid can be used to power cars
  • understand why low carbon-technology (LCT) vehicles are essential to help reduce emissions and conserve fossil fuel supply
  • be able to describe how science is vital to helping governments make sound decisions.

Sequence of activities

Introduce the activity by asking students what other means than fossil fuel combustion may generate energy for driving cars.

The list may include wind, wave and solar power to charge batteries for electric cars.

Introduce the formation of water in the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen as a suitable reaction that can be used in hydrogen fuel cells.

Give each student the question sheet How much energy comes from making water?

Demonstrate the electrolysis of water.

Circulate and support as students complete the questions on their sheet.

In a plenary, review the responses to the questions.

Use further questions to widen the discussion.

How could this reaction be turned into a useful source of energy for cars?

Where could we get hydrogen and oxygen from?

How would emissions be affected if cars ran on hydrogen?

Would using hydrogen-powered cars have a positive or negative impact on the greenhouse effect?

What would be the implications of having hydrogen fuel stations?

What are the potential dangers of hydrogen and petrol. Which is safer?

To what extent are we just ‘used to’ using petrol? Can we adapt to other fuels?

Introduce the role play that assesses whether hydrogen-powered cars are a realistic alternative for the future.

Give each student a copy of Collision course – which car? and

Organise them into eight groups, assigning a role to each group.

Support the groups as they:

  • carry out the background research to prepare their roles
  • prepare their presentations or questions for the ‘meeting’ according to their roles
  • prepare written reports according to their roles.

Hold the ‘meeting’, allowing the Minister (or Ministerial team) to come to their conclusion.

In a plenary:
  • debrief the students by stating explicitly that they are no longer in role
  • review the learning from the exercise, revisiting the questions above.

Take in the written reports from the role play and use them as a basis for written feedback on learning. Check that students apply what they know about fuels to the situation facing our way of life.

Assessment for learning commentary

Written and verbal questions are used to stimulate reflection on the topic.

The role play involves students in peer assessment through taking different responsibilities. The quality of their input will be seen to directly affect the outcome of the ‘meeting’. During the plenary, students can think again about what they have learned.

The written feedback gives the teacher the opportunity to respond to individuals.



For each student

Download Word Download PDF How much energy comes from making water?
Download Word Download PDF Collision course – which car?


For the demonstration

  • 500 cm3 conical flask with a sidearm and rubber tubing attached
  • Bung to fit flask with two holes to take the electrodes
  • Power pack
  • Two leads with clips
  • Two pieces of 18 SWG solder wire electrodes, about 15 cm long, coiled
  • Shallow dish
  • About 50 cm3 soap solution (Minimal hazard)
  • 300 cm3 2 mol dm-3 sulfuric acid (Corrosive)
  • Plastic pipette to fit the rubber tubing
  • Adhesive tape
  • Eye protection
  • Safety screen
  • Splint, matches
  • Metre rule.

What you do

For the demonstration

  • Put the soap solution in the dish to two-thirds full.
  • Fit the solder wires through the rubber bung so the ends protrude by about 2 cm. Tape these in place if necessary.
  • Attach the plastic pipette to the rubber tubing and the other end of the tubing to the sidearm of the flask.
  • Put the sulfuric acid in the flask to about two-thirds full.
  • Fit the bung to the flask. Make sure the coiled leads sit in the sulfuric acid.
  • Connect the leads between the power pack and electrodes.
  • Turn on the power supply to 3‑5 V.
  • Allow the electrolysis to proceed for several minutes to ensure the rubber tubing and flask are empty of air. Check for bubbles in the flask.
  • Place the tip of the pipette in the soap solution.
  • Bubbles will form on the surface of the soap solution. These can be lighted with a splint. To do this, remove the pipette, move the dish away from the flask then scoop the bubbles up using the metre rule. Light the splint and then the bubbles at arm’s length.
  • A large bubble can be made and floated off. To do this, keep the pipette in one place while a large bubble grows on the end. Lift the pipette in the air and allow the bubble to float off. Light the bubble with the splint at arm’s length.

Notes on the role play

  • Ensure that the room for the meeting is appropriate – a fixed laboratory setting will make the meeting difficult to run. Choose a location with moveable furniture and arrange this appropriately.
  • Restrict presentation times so that everyone has a fair chance: 5‑10 minutes for each should be ample.
  • Ensure the Minister keeps time fairly.
  • Ensure the Minister provides a running order in advance so that everyone knows when to make their presentations.
  • Ensure that time for questions from the journalists is allowed before the decision is made.
  • Consider inviting an outside guest to hear the meeting – this can provide an extra ‘buzz’ to help enhance performance.


How much energy comes from making water?

  1. Heat is produced.
  2. Making bonds between hydrogen and oxygen.
  3. It is produced as a vapour.
  4. The equation is 2 H2 + O2 2H2O
  5. 4 –O‑H bonds are formed.
  6. 4 x 463 = 1852, hence -1852 kJ mol-1
  7. 1 x O=O, 2 x H-H 498 + (2x 432) = +1362 kJ mol-1
  8. 1 x O=O, 2 x H-H 498 + (2x 432) = +1362 kJ mol-1
  9. Enthalpy change = bonds broken ‑ bonds formed 1362 – 1852 = - 245 kJ mol-1
  10. To make the car move.
  11. Out through the exhaust pipe.
  12. Advantages ‑ low pollution, energetically favourable, clean. Disadvantages ‑ refuelling system is not in place yet, hydrogen storage is more difficult, probably less power per mole compared with petrol.


V. Kind, Contemporary chemistry for schools and colleges. London: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2004.