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Biomass - Investigating Gases

Eric Eric Benson, Melissa Highfill, US Department of Energy - Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy - Energy Education and Workforce Development

In this lab activity students generate their own biomass gases by heating wood pellets or wood splints in a test tube. They collect the resulting gases and use the gas to roast a marshmallow. Students also evaluate which biomass fuel is the best by their own criteria or by examining the volume of gas produced by each type of fuel.

Activity takes about two to three 50-minute periods. Additional materials necessary.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Energy Literacy

Humans transfer and transform energy from the environment into forms useful for human endeavors.
Other materials addressing:
4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.
Different sources of energy and the different ways energy can be transformed, transported and stored each have different benefits and drawbacks.
Other materials addressing:
4.7 Different sources of energy have different benefits and drawbacks.
Amount of energy used can be calculated and monitored.
Other materials addressing:
6.8 Calculating and monitoring energy use.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:D) Technology
Other materials addressing:
D) Technology.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.1 Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues:B) Sorting out the consequences of issues
Other materials addressing:
B) Sorting out the consequences of issues.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Educators are encouraged to use the optional biomass home energy analysis portion of this activity if time allows. It shows how biomass energy sources realistically compare to other energy sources.

About the Science

  • The activity includes an optional mathematics extension that links these lab results to the energy bills for the student's own homes.
  • This activity was written by a DOE ACTS Fellow with input from NREL scientists and education programs staff.
  • Comment from expert scientist: This study is an in depth look at thermochemical conversion processes of biomass into fungible fuels. It is scientifically sound and steps the students through the scientific process (experiment, minimal data collection, discussion, analysis). It does so in a fun and inviting way. There is a great 'teachers resource' section at the end that provides links and further information to be used by the teacher in providing context for the resource.

About the Pedagogy

  • An excellent inquiry lab introducing the topic of biomass energy. It could be analytically complex for the grade-level suggested depending on the prior lab experience of students.
  • The written materials for this activity (e.g., lab procedure, background material, student Biomass Gasification worksheet and optional Biomass Home Energy Analysis worksheet)are all excellent.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Access to a typical chemistry lab is necessary for this activity.
  • There is a helpful picture of the correct setup.

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