Culver Academies chemistry students took on the role of lobbyists trying to convince members of Congress to support their form of fuel in upcoming energy legislation. The trick was they had to do it by using only scientific data to back up their claims.
December 9, 2014

Chemistry instructors Andy Basner, Chris Carrillo, Lauren Coil, David Lawrence, and Katie Halpin asked faculty and staff volunteers to serve as pseudo-members of the House of Representatives subcommittee on energy for the students’ group presentations on Dec. 5. The student groups, acting as lobbyists for five different fuel industries, presented recommendations on a piece of legislation that would place alternative fueling pumps in all gas stations in the United States.

Presentations were limited 15 minutes and Carillo told the faculty members the groups should focus on the science more than economics, job creation, or trying to play on the emotions. The faculty members did not need a science background but they were to question each group in order to test students’ understanding of their material. The teachers then graded each group based on a rubric provided by the chemistry teachers.

The student lobbying groups were responsible for arguing the merits of petroleum, which was against adding alternative fueling pumps: biofuel, methane, ethanol, and hydrogen. In Carillo’s C Block class, the hydrogen lobbyists picked up the subcommittee’s recommendation. The lobbyists were Joy Sheng ’18 (Shangai, China), Peter Talbot ’16 (Springboro, Ohio), Sarah George ’17 (Indianapolis), and Tyler Ortman ’17 (Bringhurst, Ind.).

The students’ presentation cited that 80 percent of the hydrogen is converted to energy, while the other fuels burn at only 20 to 30 percent efficiency. Pure hydrogen fuel cells do not produce carbon emissions and the only byproduct is water. It is the only fuel source of the five being examined that does not release any carbon emissions, they said.

Hydrogen also is the most abundant fuel in the universe, and collection of hydrogen in its elemental form does require energy. The group said by using solar or wind technology, even the collection process can be made low impact.

The students did acknowledge the major drawback to hydrogen is the expense, but they said that hydrogen fuel cells costs are coming down rapidly. Citing different sources, the group said using hydrogen as a fuel could be cost competitive with petroleum products by 2017.

Seven chemistry classes participated in the program, with each class conducting its own subcommittee hearing.


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