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Fermentation Challenge: Making Ethanol from Cellulose

Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, U.S. Department of Energy

This hands-on activity introduces students to the process of fermenting different carbohydrate sources into ethanol. Teachers demonstrate yeasts’ inability to metabolize certain food sources.

Activity will take about three to five 50-minute class periods. Additional materials required.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Short Demonstration/Experiment supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 3 Performance Expectations, 4 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 4 Cross Cutting Concepts, 9 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

About Teaching the Guiding Principle
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Energy Literacy

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4.2 Human use of energy is subject to limits and constraints.
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4.3 Fossil and bio fuels contain energy captured from sunlight.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:B) Designing investigations
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B) Designing investigations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:D) Evaluating accuracy and reliability
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D) Evaluating accuracy and reliability.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:B) Changes in matter
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B) Changes in matter.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:D) Flow of matter and energy
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D) Flow of matter and energy.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:D) Technology
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D) Technology.

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

  • Great to use when biology students are studying enzymes. The balloon activity is appropriate for high school classes.
  • Teachers will need ample time for preparation (e.g., read the detailed instructions, do demo ahead of time).

About the Science

  • Students design their own experiment and collect data to investigate the ability of yeast to metabolize a variety of feedstocks originating from different carbohydrate sources.
  • Students are encouraged to think about potential feedstocks and the biochemical processes necessary to convert each type of carbohydrate into fuel.

About the Pedagogy

  • This is an inquiry-based experiment where students design their own experiment within. A demo is used to start students thinking about the fermentation process.
  • Students can design and carry out their own labs to try to improve fermentation rates of various feedstocks as a going further exercise.
  • Two versions are available: One using balloons to measure fermentation rates and an advanced method using Vernier probes.
  • Excellent supplemental support materials are included. Sample data and a complete answer key is provided. Very explicit teacher materials are provided.
  • Good background articles on biofuels, enzymes, and the production of cellulosic ethanol accompany the lab exercise.
  • Some background in chemistry is required.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Very thorough teacher directions, materials, and resources are given.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

Materials below were developed by teachers and professional educators associated with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center with input from our scientists: http://www.glbrc.org/education/educationalmaterials

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Short Demonstration/Experiment supports:

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