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What's Up in the Environment?
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Class Projects  Fuel Cells


Scientists are constantly in search of alternate sources of energy that are environmentally friendly and do not deplete the earth’s supply of fossil fuels. Because of their portable and rechargeable nature, fuel cells hold great potential as a future power source for everything from cars, to laptops, to cell phones.

In this project, students investigate the workings of fuel cells with that of a combustion engine to examine, first hand, the pros and cons of each source. Once the experiment and research are completed, students spread the word about why everyone should care about fuel cell technology.

This project incorporates elements of the scientific method.

Grade level
Middle school, but can be adapted to suit other grades

Time allotment
Up to 1 semester

Subject matter
Main focus on environmental science, with language arts and social studies connections

Learning objectives
Students will:
  • Learn how fuel cells and combustion engines work.

  • Research the benefits and drawbacks of various energy sources, with a particular emphasis on fuel cells.

  • Assemble and experiment with a working fuel cell model.

  • Take a field trip to see fuel cells powered by methane waste at a wastewater treatment plant or landfill site.

  • Analyze the technology to suggest ways fuel cells could be used in their local community.
  • North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE)
    Excellence in Environmental Education: Guidelines for Learning
    Strand 1—Questioning and Analysis Skills (Guidelines A, B, C, D, E, G); Strand 2.2—The Living Environment (A, C, D); Strand 2.3—Humans and Their Societies (C, E); Strand 2.4—Environment and Society (A, B); Strand 3.1—Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues (A, B, C, D); Strand 3.2—Decision-Making and Citizenship Skills (A, B, C, D); Strand 4—Personal and Civic Responsibility (B, C).

  • Technology Foundation Standards for Students
    Standard 1: Basic operations and concepts; Standard 3: Technology productivity tools; Standard 4: Technology communications tools; Standard 5: Technology research tools.
Students will reflect on the results of their project by making a scrapbook, writing an illustrated newspaper or magazine article, creating a video, or building a Web site that shares their experiences with others.

Computer resources
  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above
  • Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • RealPlayer plug-in. Download for free at
Materials needed
  • WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video (optional)
  • Excel (optional)
  • PowerPoint (optional)
  • Word processing software
  • Equipment to document the project for the final assessment, such as cameras, video or tape recorders (optional)
  • Fuel cell kit (optional)
  • Small combustion engine (optional)
  • Log books
  • Chart paper or graph paper or Excel for creating the master chart in step 1
Online resources

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

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