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New York Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan

Fueling Up for a Career in Biofuel

Grade Level
6 - 8

Students will recognize the importance of fuel energy and the fact that agriculture can produce biofuel; students will identify career opportunities in the biofuel industry. Grades 6-8

Estimated Time
Two 45-minute sessions
Materials Needed

biodiesel: a fuel made from vegetable oils or animal fats

biofuel: a fuel derived directly from living matter

ethanol: a fuel produced by fermentation of products high in starch, such as corn

fossil fuel: a natural fuel such as coal or petroleum formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms

nonrenewable resource: limited natural resource that cannot be replaced or reproduced within a generation and cannot be managed for renewal; examples include oil, soil, mineral resources (lead, iron, cobalt, zinc, etc.)

renewable resource: natural resource that can be replaced naturally or by human efforts at a sustainable rate; examples include forests, fish, wildlife, plants, animals

Did You Know?
  • The Model T Ford was the first vehicle designed to run on biofuel (ethanol).1
  • Most diesel and gasoline in Europe and North America is mixed with a percentage of biofuel.1
  • Brazil and the United States together produce 87% of the ethanol in the world.1
Background Agricultural Connections

This lesson will help students recognize the use and need for fuel energy. Students will explore sources of fuel, how agriculture can produce a renewable form of fuel, and careers in the biofuel industry.

Driving a car, riding a bus, heating or cooling a building, and eating food are all daily activities that require fuel in various forms. Fossil fuels are formed naturally in the ground from the remains of living organisms. Examples include coal, natural gas, and petroleum. These forms of fuel are considered non-renewable resources due to the length of time needed for them to form relative to the speed with which we use them. Fossil fuels take thousands of years to form.

Biofuels are formed from living organisms such as plants and animal waste. Examples include ethanol (most commonly made from corn) and biodiesel (most commonly made from soybeans.) Biofuels are a product of agriculture and are considered a renewable resource because they can be produced repeatedly, year after year.

Ethanol is a form of biofuel. It can be made by fermenting sources of starch such as corn, wheat, grain sorghum, barley, potatoes, and sugar crops. Corn is the most common ethanol source due to its abundance in the United States. Biodiesel is a form of biofuel most commonly made from soybean oil in the United States, although it can also be made from recycled cooking oil and animal fats. 

  1. Inform students that you are going to give them a series of clues to identify what they will be learning about today. Using slide 1 of the Biofuel PowerPoint slides, give students the following clues:
    • Its price affects many parts of the economy.
    • It provides power to electricity plants.
    • Some types of it are pumped from the ground.
    • Other types are produced from agricultural crops.
    • It is used to heat homes.
    • It is required to transport food, clothing, and other necessities to consumers.
  2. Once students identify fuel with the clues given above, ask, "What daily activities require fuel?" (slide 2). Discuss the use of fuel in private and public transportation, heating/cooling homes and businesses, and producing food.
  3. Ask students, "How is fuel used in the process of getting food from the farm to the consumer?" Help students recognize that farmers use fuel to power tractors and machinery; power is used at processing plants where food is prepared for the consumer; and fuel is used to transport the food from the farm to the processing plant to the end consumer.
  4. Using PowerPoint slides 3-8, continue introducing students to biofuel by helping them understand the difference between fossil fuels and biofuels and between renewable and non-renewable resources.
  5. Ask students, "Would you guess that our need for renewable fuels will increase or decrease in the coming years?" Allow students time to share their prediction and potential reasons why. As students share, ask what kind of jobs could be found in the biofuel industry.
Explore and Explain

Biofuel Career Web

  1. Print one copy of the Biofuel Career Web Labels.
  2. Cut out each circle, and keep the circles together in categories:
    • All jobs associated with the farm are blue
    • All jobs associated with the processing plant are orange
    • All jobs associated with the blending facility are green
  3. Begin your class activity by identifying the three primary locations of biofuel production. Use tape or a magnet to place the three location labels on the board as shown below. Biofuel production begins on a farm where corn and soybeans are grown. Next, the corn or soybeans are processed into ethanol or biodiesel. Last, the ethanol is mixed with gasoline in a blending facility where it is prepared to sell at gas stations.
  4. Help students see the variety of jobs required for successful and efficient production of biofuel by adding each of the career circles to the board and creating a career web. For example, “A Farmer grows corn or soybeans. A Salesman from a seed company will help the farmer choose the best variety of plant to grow. Farms require lots of machinery. A Mechanic maintains the tractors and equipment….” Continue until each career is included in the web.
  5. Optional Video Clips: The following video clips were created in Minnesota. However, they illustrate the process of making ethanol and biodiesel very well. They also introduce many careers that are associated with the biofuel industry. Stop the video and discuss the careers after each is introduced. Allow students to fill out their Fueling up for a Career activity sheet.
  6. Optional Lab: Make Biodiesel If laboratory resources allow, make biodiesel in your class to help spark students’ interest in the biofuel industry. Follow the instructions and procedures provided on the sites given below. (Biodiesel is very safe, but the chemicals used in production have specific handling and storage requirements. Follow all safety precautions listed on the packaging.)
    • Video Demonstration:
    • Note: The “recipe” for making biodiesel varies. The standard most often used is 1 ½ tsp. of lye for every 4-5 cups (approximately 1 liter) of methanol/vegetable oil used.
  1. Use this Biofuel Facts Kahoot Quiz to review students’ understanding of biofuel vocabulary. (If the link doesn’t work because you haven’t signed in, search for Biofuel Facts by Darren Atkinson in the Public Kahoots section.)
  2. After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
    • Agriculture provides the materials needed to cover our basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter, as well as additional needs like fuel for transportation.
    • There are a variety of agricultural careers available in the biofuel industry.
Andrea Gardner
Utah Agriculture in the Classroom
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