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Pump Wars

  • Key Stage 3
  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Demonstration
Topic: Fuels

We are facing an energy crisis. Fossil fuels are running out. Until now, cars have run on petrol, but shortages are looming. Renewable fuels will soon be our only choice. But which should we opt for? This is the question posed by this Red Hot Science activity. Students learn about alternative fuels through a fun, hands-on approach. The scenario is this: It's 2010, and students are about to get their first car. Oil shortages have pushed petrol costs to outrageous levels. It's just too expensive to burn. Small local suppliers now produce most motor fuels. Three are available locally: biodiesel, ethanol and hydrogen. The car choosen will need adjusting to suit their choice of fuel. But which is best? Students consider the options and choose a winner and two binners.

Published: 18th January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 24

Learning objectives

Students should be aware of alternatives to fossil fuels and be able to assess how much pollution their combustion would produce.

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

Alternatives to fossil fuels.

11 – 14(KS3)
Environmental chemistry QCA 9G
• be aware of the possible effects of burning fossil fuels on the environment.

GCSE specifications
AQA Core Science
Unit C1a Products from Rocks: 12.3 How do we get fuels from crude oil?
• Consider and evaluate the social, economic and environmental impacts of the uses of fuels.
• Evaluate developments in the production and uses of better fuels, e.g. ethanol and hydrogen.
Edexcel Core Science
Unit C1b Topic 7: There's One Earth
• Explain why bio-fuels are sometimes an attractive alternative to fossil fuels.
• Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of switching cars from petrol to hydrogen fuel.
• Explain that alcohol obtained from sugar cane or sugar beet, is a useful bio-fuel which can be used to reduce the demand for petrol, but large areas of fertile land have to be used
Gateway Core Science
Module C1 Carbon Chemistry: Item C1g Using carbon fuels
• Interpret data about fuels in order to choose the best fuel for a particular purpose.
Twenty First Century Core Science
Module C1 Air Quality: C1.2 What chemical reactions produce air pollutants?
Understand how burning fossil fuels in power stations and for transport pollutes the atmosphere.

Running the activity

Starter activity (15min): Show page 1, which is a stimulus sheet, designed for display on a whiteboard or OHP. It explains the scenario and outlines the pupil tasks. Groups of 3 students will need copies of page 2. It is a game board with 3 small cars, which can be cut out and used as markers. Students take the role of drivers using biodiesel, ethanol or hydrogen as fuel. Players take turns to throw a 6, choose their fuel and begin the race to the finish. The luck of the dice decides whether they are hindered, or speeded up, by factors that could affect their fuel.

Practical activity (10min): This could be run as a teacher demo, a whole class activity or a combination of the two. The 3 fuels are burned and scored for ease of ignition, smell and smoke production. Imitation biodiesel and ethanol can be burnt in spirit burners. Hydrogen can be collected by upward displacement and ignited with a lit splint. It needs to be stressed though that hydrogen does not actually burn in hydrogen-powered cars. Instead the hydrogen powers a fuel cell, which produces electricity for an electric motor.

Main Activity (25 min):
Show page 3, which outlines the task and acts as a score sheet. This is a "Winner or Binner" activity and can be "played" in two ways.

Option 1:
Individuals take the part of "Trinny and Susannah" and, in turn, make a positive or negative comment about one of the fuels. The comments, and the feature of each fuel they refer to, are supplied as cards on pages 4, 5 and 6. Pupils give each comment a mark between -1 and +3 depending on how positive or negative they think it is. There are 9 cards for each of the 3 fuels, so each member of the class can have a card if the competition is run as a class activity. A tally of the marks is kept so that it's easy to total them up and find the winners and two binners. The activity also works well with groups of 3 students. They take turns to read the comments about one of the fuels, and the other members of the group give each comment a score.

Option 2:
Teams of pupils use the PowerPoint template, and the cards on pages 4, 5 and 6, to prepare a series of slides about one of the alternative fuels. They can enliven their presentations to the rest of the class by taking on the roles of Biodiesel Beth, Venus Eyescool or Miss Fruity. Individuals then vote for the fuels they DIDN'T present. Marks are tallied to find the winner and two binners.

Plenary (5 mins):
Pupils could be encouraged to suggest what the suppliers they rejected could do to make their fuels more attractive. Would either of them have more success if they went abroad?

News links

Fact sheet on hydrogen fuel cells.
H&O to H2O
A simple animation that explains how fuel cells produce electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen to make water.
The Sun
Brief notes on each alternative to petrol.
Energy Saving Trust
Where to buy alternative fuels in the UK.
Alternative Transport Fuels
Detailed information about the chemical components of petrol ad alternative fuels.
Resources to encourage students to investigate new alternatives to petrol or gas driven vehicles.

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?

Teaching trainee primary teachers

Jun 1st, 2011

3 Star

I used Pump Wars with a group of trainee teachers to get them thinking about current issues about energy and fuels. The stimulus materials were well received by these young adults and generated lots of discussion. Even though we are using thsisresource in Australia the subject content is still very relevant.

Reviewer: Nola Shoring

Pump Wars review

May 22nd, 2011

3 Star

Good activity for year 9 - although this particular group needed a lot of encouragement. Debating the facts and generating their own opinion was difficult to start with

Reviewer: Audrey Minks


May 8th, 2011

5 Star

Was the first time I'd used an UPD8 activity and introduced it to a lower ability year 8 group - it worked really well and each group had a go at representing their winning fuel at the end. A fab activity.

Reviewer: Julia Phillips


May 13th, 2010

5 Star

My bottom set year 11 loved this, it was easy to follow and they learnt somehting from it.

Reviewer: Victoria Barnes

Flexible resource

May 7th, 2010

5 Star

I have used this with everyone from year 7 to year 11 top set. The information is simple enough for year 7 to understand, and the task can be extended for higher year groups by including e.g. chemical formulae, lists of pollutants etc. A poster activity with what goes into and goes out of your car works well too. Thank you.

Reviewer: Karen Flanagan


Sep 28th, 2009

5 Star

thank you

Reviewer: Apichart Koykume

Pump Wars review

Sep 12th, 2009

3 Star

This is agreat game and it was very interactive. I had students who never contributes to anything was debating why their fuel was better. I would have liked it if more information about the team was provided within the game.

Reviewer: Elizabeth Anthony

Pump wars

Jun 11th, 2008

4 Star

Very good interactive introduction to the idea of alternative fuels. The students found the card activity engrossing and most of them came out with an understanding that there is more to choosing an alternative fuel than just cost.

Reviewer: Joy Liiv

Pump Wars review

May 12th, 2008

4 Star

I used this (in a modified form) with a rump of Y8 students (most had been taken out on a residential course)

I didn't use the game, rather i divided the students into 6 groups, (2 for each fuel) and gave them 15 minutes to preapre a presentation about each fuel. As they were orking i sneaked in soem extra points to each group.

Each presentation was given, with tiem for questions from the other students.

I finished with an open vote, and was most surprised when Hydrogen one!

A useful lesson, enjoyed by most.

Stephen Brian

Reviewer: Stephen Brian

Pump Wars

Mar 28th, 2008

3 Star

I used the card exercise as a 'chunk' of the lesson with a Yr 10 group. We put page 3 on the IWB and wrote the scores on it. The activity worked well with biodiesel coming out top. It did stimulate some debate but the Trinny and Susannah link did not really work, possibly because like the students I thought the link was a bit tenuous. As always, I enjoyed the great graphics and use of colour. The board game looked interesting but couldn't find enough dice to play!

Reviewer: Neil Mitchell

Pump Wars

Mar 28th, 2008

3 Star

I used the card exercise as a 'chunk' of the lesson with a Yr 10 group. We put page 3 on the IWB and wrote the scores on it. The activity worked well with biodiesel coming out top. It did stimulate some debate but the Trinny and Susannah link did not really work, possibly because like the students I thought the link was a bit tenuous. As always, I enjoyed the great graphics and use of colour. The board game looked interesting but couldn't find enough dice to play!

Reviewer: Neil Mitchell

Pump Wars

Mar 28th, 2008

3 Star

I used the card exercise as a 'chunk' of the lesson with a Yr 10 group. We put page 3 on the IWB and wrote the scores on it. The activity worked well with biodiesel coming out top. It did stimulate some debate but the Trinny and Susannah link did not really work, possibly because like the students I thought the link was a bit tenuous. As always, I enjoyed the great graphics and use of colour. The board game looked interesting but couldn't find enough dice to play!

Reviewer: Neil Mitchell

Pupm wars

Sep 25th, 2007

2 Star

A great resource for reinforcing the ideas behind renewable and non renewable. However as a female teacher in an all boys school I constantly battle against sexism and stereotyping .I am aware the motor industry uses images of women to sell cars but do we need to encourage it in the classroom?

Reviewer: Mairead Ulamoleka

Excellent activity

May 14th, 2007

3 Star

The activity is a good accompanyment to this course. however, the presentation was difficult to download, since none of the computers or formats used could sort out the code it was written in.

Reviewer: Claire Else

Got a hard-to-please group interested!

Mar 23rd, 2007

4 Star

I used this with a higher set group as a way to vary their learning activities. I thought they might laugh at the idea of using the 'snakes-and-ladders' game. They loved it and as I went round, they were discussing the comments dotted over the game board.

Reviewer: Majella Fergus

Good starter not so sure as a full lesson.

Feb 6th, 2007

3 Star

I used this with a mixed ability year 10 last lesson. The board game starter was a success and some groups played it a couple of times in the alloted time period.
The card game did not quite hit the spot after the good start. On reflection, I should have given out a brief bullet point of instructions (re the scoring system).
The groups completed the tasks/scoring but the spark of debate was missing.
Given the opportunity I will use either of the activities as a starter but not back to back for a whole lesson. As a trainee teacher I perhaps took the instructions too literally and perhaps needed to be a little more creative in its delivery. I have already noted some good ideas from other reviews such as using the group as a whole/interacting and using whiteboards.

Reviewer: Steven Davies

Technicians point of view!

Feb 6th, 2007

2 Star

While the activity may sound interesting, I just don't think the practical activity has been though out properly. From a technician's point of view, what is imitation bio-diesel ?
After researching for about 30 - 45 minutes I was able to find out how to make bio-diesel proper, but no imitation bio-diesel.
Also with a flash point of about 350-400oC I fail to see how this is going to burn in a spirit burner. Diesel is only combustible in a compression engine.

Its all well and good writing fun lessons about pretending to be someone off TV
(Trinny and Susannah) but isn't this drama and acting not science.

Reviewer: Matt Belper

A good in context approach that the students could relate to

Feb 4th, 2007

4 Star

I used the information cards at the back for the students to produce posters and quick presentations on alternative fuels of the furture. I set the scene as set out in the activity which allowed the students to relate to the ideas quickly. I gave the students only one lesson for this but it would have been better to give them more research a preparation time for better results. One lesson worked fine with the top sets but was not really long enough for the lower ability groups.

Reviewer: Beth Harrop

a good way to learn how science works

Nov 8th, 2006

5 Star

Thank you for developing a brilliant resource for the new year 10 course. It worked really well as i was very pushed for time as we are nearing the module exams in November.

Reviewer: hazel frost

Fantastic Fuels!

Nov 1st, 2006

5 Star

Brilliant! Thank you for providing this activity! I did this with my 'challenging' year 10 class and for once, they were engaged! a very good lesson for a dull topic. I look forward to more of the KS4 resources :-)

Reviewer: Rysia Kaminski

Speedy Sperm

Jun 30th, 2005

4 Star

I used the information on the cards as a basis for a drama activity where pupils acted out the scenarios in small groups. One pupil was the egg and the other 3 or 4 took the role of the sperm, then they acted out the sperms journey to reach the egg. The pupils were very creative and really seemed to enjoy the activity after some initial apprehension!!! If I had had time I would have liked to find some suitable music for each mini drama e.g. the James Bond theme for the caffeine driven sperm, and some Latin American carnival music for the cannabis affected sperm! Overall a really good fun activity.

Reviewer: Claire Brown

A very good extension activity

Jun 16th, 2005

5 Star

I used this with a top set year 10 class. I started the lesson with a reminder on the definition of what a fuel is, what is produced when a hydrocarbon burns etc in order to satisfy the syllabus requirements for the AQA modular course.
In the second half of the lesson I used 'pump wars' as an extension activity and it went down very well. I cut a few corners to get it done in about 20 mins so that a plenary could be fitted in. I recommend this activity. Do have a good look at it as it is very adaptable.

Reviewer: John Brooker

Fantastic approach to fuels

Feb 9th, 2005

5 Star

Haved used this with a broad ability year 10 group

Teaching alternative fuels is good, but this game and related discussions put the problem and solutions in the pupils context
The pupils quickly relised that replacing petrol is no easy option. They used high level discussion skills to come to compromise solutions.
Discussions moved on to lifestyle changes needed, with 2 pupils discussing their parents home working, with its pros + cons as an alternative to using fuels at our current rate

Reviewer: Grant Cunningham

A fun way of covering a dull topic

Jan 18th, 2005

4 Star

I used this as a fun lesson in the week before Christmas with a lower set. The atmosphere was a lot more casual than a normal lesson. The class extroverts played the three fuel suppliers. They knew in advance so they brought in clothes and props and got themselves ready while the rest of the class played the starter game. This is quite quick if you let them start without a 6 and end without the exact number, so they had 2 or 3 goes at it. There are quite a lot of facts on the game card and these started to sink in with repetition. Everyone had a go at being Trinny and Susannah to the 3 performers, with the rest holding up scores for each comment on their mini whiteboards. (There is a mistake on P. 3. by the way. According to the teacher's guide, the allowable scores are supposed to be from -1 to 3.) We chose the most popular score for each comment (to avoid having to add up or do an average). We put P.3 on the interactive whiteboard and wrote the scores in over the top. Biodiesel came off best for us, and hydrogen worst. Because it was an end-of-term lesson, I skipped the practicals and the fuel cells details – which would have got a lot more science into the activity.

Reviewer: Pam Large

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