Tag Archives: biofuels

Eat seaweed, make fuel.

Well, that’s what happens if you are colony of genetically engineered E.coli bacteria!

Scientists have given the bacteria genes that make it convert complex sugars in the seaweed into alcohol, which can then be used as a fuel. Seaweed is plentiful, and grows naturally in our oceans. A very good thing indeed!

Mmm, seaweed! Germ food?

Mmm, seaweed! Germ food?

Up til now, biofuels like ethanol have been made by fermeting sugarcane and maize (no E.coli involved), but that means using valuable food crop land (not to mention, food crops!) to produce the alcohol. Very controversial of course… And in the case of maize, it actually takes more energy to grow and process the crop than the energy gained from the ethanol produced!

The next step in this synthetic biology research is working out how to make this seaweedy process scaleable: biofuel production would need billions of tonnes of seaweed. A pilot plant is being built in Chile- we will stay tuned to hear how it works!

In the meantime, try your hand at engineering E.coli in Bacto-Lab, one of Futurecade‘s 4 games about current and future science. Futurecade launches next week (we are incredibly excited!!) with background science notes for each game so you can use it in the classroom to engage your students in a really fun way, and get them talking about how science that shapes their lives.

Fueling a biofuels discussion?

Planning a discussion about biofuels?

Veggie power?

Veggie power! Will biofuels save the world?

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has a set of teaching resources you can use if you are getting your students to explore the topic.

They have actually split the material up into 2 lessons’ worth: one where your students familiarise themselves with various forms of biofuel, and the second which involves a role-play exercise about the impacts of biofuel production on countries around the world.

The resources contain a wealth of content such as case studies, important questions, and background science, plus helpful scaffold material for presenters, all of which you may find useful even if you don’t follow the lesson plans to the letter or don’t have time to dedicate 2 lessons to the topic.

So take a look at what is available, as you can really adapt the material to your needs.

If you are looking for a way to add a bit of ‘spice’ to the discussion, throw in some Talk Science techniques- for example, you may like to use our powerful question generator to help you come up with some great hook questions that make the topic of biofuels directly relevant to your students, or begin and conclude the discussion with a vote or a human barometer exercise to encourage your students to voice their own opinions in the debate.

Good luck!