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Biofuels/Biomass Cellulose Lab

Environmental Literacy and Inquiry Working Group, Lehigh University

In this lab activity, students investigate how to prepare a biofuel source for conversion to a combustible product. The activity models how raw materials are refined to process liquid fuels.

1 hour teacher prep; 2 hours for lab activity and answering questions on the investigations sheet. Cellulase (available through educational science supply distributors, 25 gram bottle. approximately $25-35 -1 yr shelf life - store in cool, dry, dark location) Benedict’s Reagent-qualitative (available through educational science supply distributors – order 500 ml. Approximate cost $13/ liter -2yr shelf life)

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Quite a few steps in this lab, but ample support for educator is provided. Educator needs to purchase some materials and prepare the paper pulp and the cellulase solution a day ahead of the laboratory.
  • Have students create a flow chart demonstrating the conversion of raw materials into biofuel to demonstrate their understanding.
  • Students may need come back after school to check their results.
  • Educator may want to do this as a demo.
  • It may be helpful to demonstrate that Benedict's reagent works as a detector of simple sugars.
  • Some students may require a refresher on what a simple sugar is.
  • Instructor may need to think about possible misconceptions students may bring to this activity.
  • See other CLEAN resources about biofuels in conjunction with this activity.

About the Science

  • In this guided lab activity, students use an enzymatic reaction to break down cellulose from paper pulp and release the sugar component. The releasing variable (e.g., water, cellulase, rubbing alcohol) is tested. Students are asked to make a prediction, do the experiment, observe and explain the results.
  • Comments from expert scientist: There is substantial background information on the subject, extending beyond cellulosic ethanol and offering a sincere, objective, and concise discussion on the pros and cons of different options to produce biofuels. It may be technically feasible to produce a fuel, such as cellulosic ethanol, but being able to produce it so it is cost effective in the marketplace is another feat to overcome. This should be mentioned when discussing biofuels, and other energy alternatives.

About the Pedagogy

  • Step-by-step instructions are straightforward. Several hours are required to get proper results.
  • This lesson package includes a thorough teacher's guide.
  • Could be adapted to middle school level.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The lab instructions - and the teaching support materials - are thorough and clear.

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