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Evaluating woody biomass options for North Carolina's electricity future

Dana Haine, University of North Carolina, School of Education

In this activity, students learn about the pros and cons of co-firing woody biomass fuels with coal to produce electricity.

Activity takes about three to four 45-minute class periods.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 5 Cross Cutting Concepts, 6 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

About Teaching the Guiding Principle
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About Teaching the Guiding Principle
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Humans can take action
About Teaching Climate Literacy
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Energy Literacy

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4.3 Fossil and bio fuels contain energy captured from sunlight.
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4.7 Different sources of energy have different benefits and drawbacks.
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5.4 Economic factors.
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5.5 Political factors.
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5.6 Environmental factors.
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5.7 Social Factors.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:E) Organizing information
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E) Organizing information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:C) Energy
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C) Energy.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:E) Environmental Issues
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E) Environmental Issues.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.1 Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues:C) Identifying and evaluation alternative solutions and courses of action
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C) Identifying and evaluation alternative solutions and courses of action.

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

  • Good tips are included in the lesson.
  • Worksheets with a wealth of resources are provided.

About the Science

  • As coal-burning power plants seek ways to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, some are evaluating co-firing with woody biomass for the generation of steam heat and/or electricity.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths: Very relevant topic and like that the resource is structured as a town hearing/debate. Good background information is provided. References seem to come from reputable sources.
    Suggestions: Newer resources regarding health and environment that groups 2 & 5 should be reading are missing. A fair amount had been done in the last 5 years linking air quality, emissions and human health. Suggest including studies that use life cycle assessment of biomass resources as compared to coal.

About the Pedagogy

  • This is a problem-based authentic assessment.
  • Students assume the role of various stakeholders and participate in a discussion with classmates who represent officials from a local power plant that is seeking to substitute twenty percent of its coal with woody biomass.
  • Students evaluate available woody biomass options (forest residue, mill residue, urban wood) and come to a group consensus about which option, if any, is best from economic, environmental, and public health perspectives.
  • Very engaging and well-designed format.
  • Activity focused on the standards set by the North Carolina Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard REPS but can be easily adapted to other locations.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Easy-to-use lesson plan.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

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