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metals: fuels of the future?

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Information retrieval
Topic: Fuels

The price of petrol and diesel is making us think very carefully about the car of the not-so-distant future. The commonly held belief that water will be a solution through advanced fuel cells has been challenged by the idea of running a car on metal instead! This activity asks students to imagine their dream car. Then they learn about metals as fuels, including advantages and as yet unsolved problems. Finally, they produce an advert to sell metal-fuelled cars.

11-14 reactions of metals and patterns of reactivity

Published: 9th November 2005
Reviews & Comments: 13

Learning objectives

Students will:
Recognise that metals are oxidised when they react with oxygen
Know that metals can be used as fuels, and the benefits and problems of so doing

Try the activity

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9e reactions of metals
Represent reactions by word equations
Identify patterns in reactions of metals

9f patterns of reactivity
Describe how some metals react with oxygen to form oxides
Give some uses of metals and relate to their reactivity

9h Using Chemistry
Identify burning as a reaction which produces energy

Running the activity

Show page 1 (either projected or as an OHT). Use this to set the scene and to personalise the context – what will their ideal first cars be like? Get students to read the information in small groups – one person representing each character.

Give each small group or individual a copy of page 2. This is summary of the New Scientist article describing the use of metals as vehicle fuels. Ask students to read the information and make sure that they understand it. Emphasise the information about the reactivity series in the section entitled 'metal power: can I get it now?'

Then ask groups or individuals to finish the advert on page 3. They will need to use the information on page 2 to do this.

Possible plenary. One person in each small group is a salesperson of the future who must sell one of the powdered metal-fuelled cars. They must respond to each of the readers of the dream bubbles as to how the new idea can meet their needs.

Teachers might wish to consider the demonstration of the practical of heating a nail, wire wool and some iron powder to show that small pieces of metal are oxidised much more quickly than big pieces. Emphasise that 'nano-sized' particles are much smaller than the iron powder you are using.

News links

New Scientist
An overview of the article that featured in the New Scientist.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Oct 22nd, 2013

4 Star

Quick way to show that there is no link between MMR and autism. One of my class actually had the MMR after this lesson

Reviewer: lynda phillips


Sep 24th, 2012

5 Star

Very good resource Led to a good discussion about reliability of evidence.

Reviewer: Olivia Rodríguez

Metal: fuel for the future

Jun 13th, 2012

5 Star

this resource looks amazing, i will be using it with my year 7 next week and will be back to say how they got on.

Reviewer: jeremiah wainaina


Jan 11th, 2012

5 Star

The students were really skeptical at first about running a car on metal. However, they really got into it. Excellent resource.


9e reactions of metals

Oct 14th, 2009

4 Star

worked well with my class. engaged them with the idea of their future car, got a bit confused by the advert, maybe clearer instructions for lower ability.

Reviewer: kelly morris

just add hydrogen to recycle!

Nov 25th, 2007

3 Star

Haven't tried this yet but it does look quite a nice link between metal reactions and the using chemistry and environmental chemistry topics. Just a bit concerned about the use of hydrogen to reduce iron oxide. Having recently covered displacement reactions and also emphasised that copper doesn' react with dilute acids because it is less reactive than hydrogen (and iron does react and is therefore more reactive) how am I going to explain this?

Reviewer: Edwin Gwyer


Nov 11th, 2007

5 Star

A great activity for my grade 9 students as this linked current news to science. They took great pleasure in discussing the Reactivity Series and forming their opinion & showcasing artistic abilities (advert designing). A great success all round!!

Reviewer: Kurshid Malleck

Metal fuels

Sep 12th, 2006

3 Star

Tried this with a year 10 group - not enjoyed as much as other activities

Reviewer: Tracy Page

Metals fuels of the future.

Sep 3rd, 2006

4 Star

I used this resource with an S3 chemistry class. Each group was given a copy of the new scientist article and highlighter pens! They were in groups and had to help each other identify the key points and use this in their presentations after about 3 lessons. This was enjoyed by pupils as it is relevant to the future.

Reviewer: marion macdonald

Using Metal Fuels

Dec 4th, 2005

4 Star

I am a BT and decided to use this activity with my Yr 9 class. As they are the second from top set and the QTS standards require you to show differentiation etc., I tried to make it slightly more challenging for them. I took the original article from the New Scientist (fortunately I had that issue at home) and edited, cut and pasted it onto a single A4 side (obviously I am not on my full BT timetable yet). In class I made the pupils read it in pairs and pick out the parts which exlained how iron nanoparticles could be used (i.e. the oxidation reactions that would take place), the advantages of using iron as a fuel and possible disadvantages. Then using the textbooks as well and the reactivity series, I asked them to compare iron to another metal and then decide which metal they think will be most suitable and justify its use as an advertisment. This sounds really complicated but I must have explained it better (the second time) in class because they really got into it and I still found time at the end (must have plenary!) to discuss as a whole class which metal they preferred. The majority chose iron, believe it or not!

Reviewer: Camilla Shifrin

Metals; fuels of the future?

Nov 28th, 2005

3 Star

Interesting use of new 'fuels'.
I would like to see included some questions....
How can we produce pure metals? hydrogen?
How much energy is involved in each of these?

Reviewer: Val Pitman


Nov 21st, 2005

1 Star

Unable to download activity, reports file does not exist??

Reviewer: David Walker

The car of your dreams

Nov 18th, 2005

1 Star

no rating at the moment has been entered as this is a first reaction comment. I have just downloaded and printed a copy. I notice on page 1 the classic mistake that we try to stop students making is there. Bottom left hand speech bubble 'Uses the same fuel again and again'. I think you are meaning a plentiful supply not reusing. Can you change it?

Reviewer: Sue Richardson