"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

Enzymatic hydrolysis of aspen wood chips.

Fermentation of glucose to ethanol by yeast.

Distallation of ethanol in Dr. Shonnard's labratory at MTU.

qCombustion of ethanol .



Renewable Energy

Teacher Infomation:Suzan Powers

Grand Blanc High School


Unit OverviewThis unit takes students through the types of renewable energy.  We will begin by addressing an energy source not typically realized- energy efficiency.  After performing some calculations and discussion at the end of the first lesson, students will realize that increased energy efficiency is not sufficient to solve our energy problems and we will move onto lessons about each of the various types of renewable energy: solar, wind, hydropower, biomass and geothermal. The central focus of the unit is an extensive laboratory experience for students on the conversion of woody biomass to ethanol.  The unit ends with a look at the work of engineers and their focus on the betterment of society by creatively solving important societal problems.

Target Grade Level: AP Environmental Science

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Lesson Plans:
Lesson: How can we eliminate energy waste?

This lesson is designed to have students begin to think about solutions for our current energy problems.  Americans currently use a higher amount of energy per capita than any other country and most non-transportation energy is supplied by electricity.Through this lessons students will see that they have some control over the amount of their consumption of energy used in their personal life and therefore they can be part of our energy solutions.

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Lesson One: Biomass and its use as a renewable energy source

Students will use computers and complete a webquest to familiarize themselves with biomass as an energy source.

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Lesson Three*: The Conversion Process Laboratory

Ethanol today is used in several flex fuel vehicles and is currently processed by using corn.  There is some debate about the use of corn for ethanol as it is grown on agricultural lands.  Research is currently being conducted into the conversion of woody biomass from different feedstocks (trees and grass) to utilize forest resources and other marginal lands to produce cellulosic ethanol.  This process is far from perfected. This laboratory takes students through the four steps necessary to produce a usable ethanol fuel from a woody biomass (aspen shavings).  Students will be conducting an experiment to determine the optium conditions to produce the maximum yield of sugar and therefore ethanol.

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*Please contact the author teacher or Dr. David Shonnard at drshonna@mtu.edu if you are interested in the kits and the accompaning JSA's desgined at MTU that are used in these lessons.


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