Paving the Way
Education Excerpt 2:14 min
Paving the Way
PDF Documentation

The largest share of oil consumed in the United States - nearly 70 percent - is used by automobiles. In America alone in 2007, cars will burn through 143 billion gallons of gasoline and, at current retail prices, fueling up will cost Americans up to $360 billion per year. Cars are not just an American problem: They are also a global one that's only likely to grow. Currently there are 850 million cars and trucks traveling on the earth's roads, and it is projected that by 2020, the global number of automobiles is going to grow to about 1.1 billion. If you took those cars, parked them end-to-end and wrapped them around the earth, they would go around it 125 times.

Because it is unlikely that the demand for automobiles will decrease, we need to find ways to make them more efficient and find alternatives to gasoline. Rising oil prices, global temperature increases caused by the greenhouse gas emissions, and instability in the oil-rich Middle East are three of the main problems caused, in part, by the world's addiction to gas-powered automobiles. And while carpooling, public transportation and simply driving less could help alleviate these problems, they won't take us far enough. In order to slow the negative effects of automobile usage, we need to design with the future in mind. We need to design ourselves out of oil dependence.

In this episode, General Motors unveils The Volt, a super-hybrid vehicle, and the fuel cell-powered Sequel, while technology firm Fiberforge shows off the latest in ultra-lightweight materials for car manufacturing. These are only a few of the advanced technologies being developed for the future of the automobile industry. Which solution or solutions will emerge as the most cost-efficient, energy-efficient and ultimately the most popular cars of the future?


1. What types of energy currently power cars? What types of energy show promise for powering cars in the future?

2. What are the challenges of fueling cars with gasoline, both from an environmental and a political perspective?

3. What percentage of the gasoline in a car do you think is used to move it forward?

4. It is often said that people "love their cars." What do cars represent in our society? How dependent are you, your family and your city/town on automobiles? Do you use other forms of transportation?

Link to resources to conduct research on these topics.


1. What is a hybrid vehicle and how does it function? What are the positive aspects of owning one? Negative aspects?

2. What problems do we currently face due to our society's dependence on oil? Are there benefits to our current system?

3. How could using lightweight materials to manufacture cars help the environment?

4. Why wouldn't every car manufacturer want to use lightweight materials right now? What are some of the risks with being the first company to use a new technology? What are some of the benefits of being the first?



Engineering Education
Standard 5.6: Knows renewable and non-renewable sources of energy (e.g., fossil, wind, nuclear, solar)

Standard 5.8: Understands how the use of domestic and commercial power and energy affects the environment

Standard 14.4: Understands how societal interests, economics, ergonomics, and environmental considerations influence a solution

Standard 16.3: Understands the role of research and development in the production of new or improved products, processes, and materials

Standard 17.6: Understands tradeoffs among characteristics such as safety, function, cost, ease of operation, quality of post-purchase support, and environmental impact when selecting systems for specific purposes


Standard 3.2: Knows ways in which social and economic forces influence which technologies will be developed and used (e.g., cultural and personal values, consumer acceptance, patent laws, availability of risk capital, the federal budget, local and national regulations, media attention, economic competition, tax incentives)

Standard 3.3: Knows that alternatives, risks, costs, and benefits must be considered when deciding on proposals to introduce new technologies or to curtail existing ones (e.g., Are there alternative ways to achieve the same ends? Who benefits and who suffers? What are the financial and social costs and who bears them? How serious are the risks and who is in jeopardy? What resources will be needed and where will they come from?)

Paving the Way

Education Excerpt 2:14 min

Paving the Way
PDF Documentation