Analyzing Fuel Carbon Footprints: Gasoline, Ethanol and Electricity

Middle School
High School
Stand-Alone Activity

Burning gasoline, a fossil fuel, in cars produces the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide contributes to global climate change. We have several options besides gasoline for powering our cars – electricity and biofuels like ethanol. In this data dive, students interpret and analyze data on the greenhouse gas emissions from producing and using different fuels for vehicles. In the process, they apply the concept of a life cycle assessment to tally environmental impacts for each step of fuel production and use. Based upon this analysis, students develop an argument based on evidence for the fuel that is most environmentally sustainable.

Read this short introduction to GLBRC Data Dives to learn what they are and how to use them in science classes.

This activity is based on the "data nugget" curriculum model developed by scientists and educators at the Kellogg Biological Station. To learn more and view similar data nugget activities, visit:

Earth Science
Environmental Science
Physical Science
Carbon Cycle & Climate Change
Sustainable Energy Systems
Carbon cycle, fuels, climate change, life cycle assessment, data analysis, scientific argumentation, nature of science
Prior Knowledge
Familiarity the carbon cycle, causes of climate change and transportation fuel alternatives is helpful.
Time Required
Two 50-minute class periods
Required Supplies
None. Download materials in activity package.