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From Pond Scum to Power

Melissa Salpietra, NOVA scienceNOW

This animated slideshow introduces biodiesel as a fuel alternative. With concern about the use of petroleum-based fuels at an all-time high, biodiesel is experiencing a popularity surge. And algae—otherwise known to some as pond scum— are grabbing headlines as the next potential biodiesel superstar. But how and why do algae make oil? And why do they make so much of it? In this audio slide show, U.C. Berkeley's Kris Niyogi describes the process and its potential.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Video supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 4 Disciplinary Core Ideas
High School: 7 Disciplinary Core Ideas

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

About Teaching the Guiding Principle
Other materials addressing GPe

Energy Literacy

Fossil and bio fuels are organic matter that contain energy captured from sunlight.
Other materials addressing:
4.3 Fossil and bio fuels contain energy captured from sunlight.
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.
Other materials addressing:
Various sources of energy are used to power human activities .
The Sun is the major source of energy for organisms and the ecosystems of which they are a part.
Other materials addressing:
3.1 The Sun is major source of energy for organisms and ecosystems.
Food is a biofuel used by organisms to acquire energy for internal living processes.
Other materials addressing:
3.2 Food is a biofuel.

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

  • Use along with your photosynthesis unit to create real-world relevance and increase student interest, then go to an activity on biodiesel.
  • There is a lot of jargon in the audio, so teachers may need to address this important new vocabulary.
  • Addresses what algae are and how they produce oil that can be used as a biofuel. Compares algae to land plants as a source for biodiesel.
  • This resource is partially a video and partially an interactive. It does a great job connecting the dots between photosynthesis and bio-fuels.
  • Could be used to introduce a unit on photosynthesis.

About the Science

  • Presents and animates each step in the process of turning algae into biofuel.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This activity is a great introduction to algal biofuels for the middle to high school levels. Dr. Niyogi who runs a research lab investigating very physiological effects of genetic algal mutations has been on PBS Nova describing a number of topics. This is appropriate for a biology course, without diving into the biochemistry details of photosynthesis, sugars to lipids production, and transesterification of the lipids to biodiesel. This resource would not be appropriate from a biochemistry point of view.

About the Pedagogy

  • Engaging animations divided into bite-size mini-videos break down the process of understanding in an effective way. Allows time between segments for students to ask or answer questions and reflect on what they've just seen before clicking on to the next segment.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Uses a variety of media images, animations, and video to educate how algae can be used to generate biodiesel.
  • Transcript is available, and user can go back and forth between slides.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Video supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 4

MS-ESS3.A1:Humans depend on Earth’s land, ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere for many different resources. Minerals, fresh water, and biosphere resources are limited, and many are not renewable or replaceable over human lifetimes. These resources are distributed unevenly around the planet as a result of past geologic processes.

MS-LS1.C1:Plants, algae (including phytoplankton), and many microorganisms use the energy from light to make sugars (food) from carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water through the process of photosynthesis, which also releases oxygen. These sugars can be used immediately or stored for growth or later use.

MS-PS3.D1:The chemical reaction by which plants produce complex food molecules (sugars) requires an energy input (i.e., from sunlight) to occur. In this reaction, carbon dioxide and water combine to form carbon-based organic molecules and release oxygen.

MS-PS3.D2:Cellular respiration in plants and animals involve chemical reactions with oxygen that release stored energy. In these processes, complex molecules containing carbon react with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and other materials.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 7

HS-ESS3.A1:Resource availability has guided the development of human society.

HS-ESS3.A2:All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors.

HS-LS1.C1:The process of photosynthesis converts light energy to stored chemical energy by converting carbon dioxide plus water into sugars plus released oxygen.

HS-LS1.C2:The sugar molecules thus formed contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen: their hydrocarbon backbones are used to make amino acids and other carbon-based molecules that can be assembled into larger molecules (such as proteins or DNA), used for example to form new cells. (

HS-LS1.C3:As matter and energy flow through different organizational levels of living systems, chemical elements are recombined in different ways to form different products.

HS-LS1.C4:As a result of these chemical reactions, energy is transferred from one system of interacting molecules to another. Cellular respiration is a chemical process in which the bonds of food molecules and oxygen molecules are broken and new compounds are formed that can transport energy to muscles. Cellular respiration also releases the energy needed to maintain body temperature despite ongoing energy transfer to the surrounding environment.

HS-PS3.D2:The main way that solar energy is captured and stored on Earth is through the complex chemical process known as photosynthesis.

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