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        The Biomass Balancing Act

        An investigation of biomass as a sustainable energy resource.

        Lesson Summary


        Students will work cooperatively to research biomass using an international energy research foundation’s educational website. They will use evidence from the web search to assess biomass energy potential in Pennsylvania as part of a classroom “Alternative Energy Commission.” After preparing and sharing a fact sheet for biomass energy, students will witness a demonstration illustrating the presence of carbon dioxide and design an experiment to investigate carbon neutrality. The suggested time frame for this lesson is three to four (3-4) 50 minute class periods.

        Content Objectives

        Students will know that

        • Biomass is all plant and animal material on the earth’s surface.
        • Biomass energy is a form of stored solar energy.
        • Biomass can be used for heating, power (electricity) generation or transportation.
        • The process of sustainably producing energy with biomass is carbon neutral.

        Process Objectives

        Students will be able to

        • Identify biomass resources
        • Describe how biomass is a form of stored solar energy
        • Explain how a particular biomass resource can be used to produce heat or electricity or contribute to transportation resource needs.
        • Design an experiment to demonstrate how it can be said that sustainable biomass energy production is carbon neutral.

        Grade Level: 6-8

        Suggested Time

        Three to four (3-4) 50-minute class periods.


        Parts 1 and 2

        • One Computer with Internet access for each student group
        • Teacher computer (if presenting video in a large group)
        • Projection equipment (if presenting video in a large group)
        • One Student Handout of PDF below per group

          Biomass Student Handout PDF Document

        Part 3

        Multimedia Resources

        External Multimedia Sources

        The Lesson

        Part I: Pennsylvania Biomass Technology (30 min)

        1. Share the PA Energy Biomass movie below. (Practitioners may elect to project the movie for the entire class or allow students to view from the internet in small groups). [If pressed for time with this content, the video may be shown as an introduction to Part 2.]

        PA Energy Biomass Movie QuickTime Video

        2. Divide students into small groups [Note: It may be helpful to sort into five groups since Part 2 works well with such an organization] and prompt them to help you formulate a working definition of biomass.

        3. Debrief main points of video as a class and develop the concept of biomass from the offerings of small group work into a large concept map or visual.

        4. Display the students’ definitions and concept maps/visuals in the classroom as a reference.

        Part II: Web Investigation (1 50 min Class Period)

        5. To further investigate biomass as an energy resource, refer to An International Energy Research Foundation educational website. Break the class into five (5) groups to explore the site’s subtopics. (Group 1 may focus on “What is it?”, Group 2, “What is it for?”, Group 3, “Where is it?”, Group 4, “A bit of history”, Group 5, “Energy Production”.)

        6. Present the website and discuss the subtopics. Set groups off to work independently to complete their sections of the Student Handout.

        7. Bring groups back to a whole class setting to share findings and create a summary document or fact sheet for biomass and bioenergy.

        Part III: Designing an Experiment (1 50 min Class Period)

        8. Give a short lecture using the diagram of the Carbon Cycle from the page 3 of the

        Biomass Teacher Notes PDF Document

        9. Demonstrate an experimental set-up for identifying the presence of carbon dioxide modified from Activity 17 of Project Learn, “Where in the World is Carbon Dioxide?” found at University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). Demonstration procedure included on page 6 of the

        Biomass Teacher Notes PDF Document

        10. Allow students to work in pairs to select a particular type of biomass and brainstorm and/or design a short experiment to gather evidence about carbon neutrality and their biomass source.

        Part IV: Extension (1-2 50 min Class Periods)

        11. Take it the next step. Implement a student-designed experiment (or combination of designs) to model a life scale investigation to quantify the emissions of various biomass resources. The full experiment sequence in Activity 17 of Project Learn is a fantastic model and can be found at: Project Learn Site.


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