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Algal Biofuels: An Emerging Renewable Energy

Jakob Nalley, W.K. Kellogg Biological Station

In this activity, students explore the basic living requirements of algae (phytoplankton)through hands-on experience and an interactive game. Students investigate what algal biofuels are, how they are made, where they can grow, and, most importantly, why this topic should be investigated. Algal biofuels are an emerging source of renewable energy.

Lesson takes about one 50-min class period. For implementation projection compound microscopes are needed.

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Climate Literacy

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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

  • This is a great activity that could be adjusted for a variety of grade levels - elementary thru high school. If students aren't able to collect samples, then the activity can still be modified to remain engaging.
  • Activity likely requires guidance for the students by the instructor.
  • Students need background information about phytoplankton and chemistry.

About the Content

  • Activity introduces algal biofuels as an emerging (and potentially very productive) renewable energy source. All of the scientific information presented via accompanying PowerPoint presentation and other text appears to be written by the developer; other sources and references need to be supplemented.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths: Very good basic introduction to the science of photosynthesis using algae, including the use of group exercises. Good introduction to the process of biofuel production.
    Suggestions: In the powerpoint and prezi presentations, carbon dioxide (CO2) required for algal photosynthesis is depicted as coming from smokestacks. This is misleading because the CO2 required for photosynthesis would presumably be available (naturally) without the smokestacks (I assume this is a depiction of a power plant smokestack and burning of fuels, fossil or other). Also, in the powerpoint presentation, the smokestack picture has been 'photoshopped' transforming the smoke plume into the letters CO2. While it's a cute use of photoshop, the great majority of smoke visible from a smokestack is condensing water vapor, and not CO2. As a teaching tool for photosynthesis, the smokestack pictures should be removed and replaced with something indicating that the CO2 simply comes from the atmosphere. Another slide could depict the origins the atmospheric CO2.

About the Pedagogy

  • Activity includes 1) a PowerPoint presentation delivered by the instructor, with a script for each slide. Questions are posed to the students but no answer keys or resources are provided to answer the questions; 2) viewing of algal specimens under microscopes are provided - without additional guidance for instructor or students about what to do other than look; 3) Detailed and complex Prezi presentation about biofuel production included. (Suggestion to walk students through the overall diagram and each zoom-in); 4) a game about environmental needs of various phytoplankton species.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This resource is very easy to use and straight forward.
  • PowerPoint and Prezi presentations are easy to access and image quality of accompanying photos is excellent.
  • Phytoplankton species are specific to Michigan.
Entered the Collection: May 2018 Last Reviewed: May 2015

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