"Wood to Wheels" - Research Experience for High School Teachers in Sustainable Transportation Technologies


Sustainable Futures Institute
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, Michigan 49931

Phone: 906.487.3612
Fax: 906.487.2943
e-mail: sfi@mtu.edu

Student aluminum can calorimeter for combustion.
































Biofuels to Combustion: Can combustion be green?

Teacher Infomation:JoEllen Hadel

North Star Academy


Unit Overview

This unit was developed as part of Michigan Technological University’s Wood-to-Wheels RET program. The outcome is for the students to understand the science and engineering behind the new emissions standards, and how these standards will impact the global environment. This unit can be easily modified to fit the standards of many science classes.

Target Grade Level: High School Environmental Science

Download Unit Outline & Timeline

Download RET Research Poster

Lesson Plans:
Lesson One:Should internal combustion engines that use fossil fuels be eliminated?

Students will engage in at “Searching for the Truth” or “Argument on Paper” style discussion. Each student pair will take on a position and write their thoughts about their side of the position down.  The key is to uncover any misconceptions or misinformation they may have; this is not so much a “teaching lesson” as a way to uncover what the students’ misconceptions are as well as the depth of their knowledge.

Download Lesson One Plans

Lesson Two: Burning Hydrocarbons: A preliminary Climate Change Investigation (Adapted from Tom Green’s Carbon Cycle and Climate Change unit)

Students will be burning a small birthday candle in a closed container and initially measuring CO2.  Their task it to do prior research on the composition of wax (to verify that it is a hydrocarbon), and what chemical reaction takes place when it is burned, including any ᐃH. From the guiding question, the students will formulate a hypothesis prior to doing the investigations.

Download Lesson Two Plans

Lesson Three: Educational Web Modules: Climate Change & Cellulosic Ethanol

Using two educational web modules made by Michigan Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute in conjunction with the National Science Foundation, the teacher can lead the students or have them work individually through a review of the carbon cycle, the greenhouse effect, global climate change, and renewable & non-renewable energies.  The web modules then introduce the concept of cellulosic ethanol, a sustainable source of ethanol to replace gasoline.

Download Lesson Three Plans

Lesson Four, Five, & Six: Biofuels: Investigating Ethanol Production and Combustion (Lab-Aids kit #39S)

This is a kit with 3 investigations that take the students from making ethanol in the classroom (lesson 4), to comparing different fuels (ethanol & kerosene) for energy content (lesson 5), to examining the combustion products produced by the different fuels (lesson 6).  The kit itself is very well written with plenty of background knowledge, a solid lesson plan, and well designed student lab guide. 

Download Lesson Four, Five, and Six Plans

Lesson Seven: A Study of Vehicle Exhaust (using the TI-Nspire) (Adapted from Tom Green’s Carbon cycle and Climate Change unit)

In this investigation, students will compare Air Pollution scores, Fuel Economy and Greenhouse scores among various vehicles.  Using a CO2 Gas Sensor, they will then measure the amount of carbon dioxide found in the exhaust of 2 vehicles.  In addition, they will measure the length of time it takes to inflate a large garbage bag (40-45 gallon bag) and the size of a balloon after it is attached to the vehicle’s exhaust for five seconds.  This will help them compare vehicle CO2 results and inflation rates. They will finish by comparing these results with the class’ preliminary investigation on the classes’ vehicles, and discussing how we can reduce our carbon footprint concerning how and what we drive.

Download Lesson Seven Plans

Assessment: A project based summative assessment of the unit.

Download Assessment & Example


Home || Lesson Plans  || Year 1 2011 Summary || Year 2 2012 Summary  || Year 3 2013 Summary