Selected Online Resources for Teaching about Alternative Energy

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  • Selected Online Resources for Teaching about Alternative EnergyLynn Diener*

    Sciences Department, Mount Mary College, Milwaukee Wisconsin 53222-4597, United States

    ABSTRACT: A collection of energy-related online resources is presented. The topics covered begin with energy basics andextend to alternative energy, including solar energy, fuel cells, wind energy, and biomass energy. Links to the resources areincluded.

    KEYWORDS: First-Year Undergraduate/General, High School/Introductory Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry,Internet/Web-Based Learning, Electrolytic/Galvanic Cells/Potentials

    As consumers pay more at the pump while worrying aboutclimate change, alternative energy is a timely topic for achemistry classroom. Instructors will likely nd that studentsare interested in this topic, especially if these students drive acar or pay to fuel it. This piece highlights some of the onlineresources available to help students learn about alternativeenergy, focusing rst on teaching about energy, then onalternative energy sources, with particular attention onhydrogen fuel cells and biomass.

    ENERGY BASICSInstructors may want to start by talking about what is meant byenergy. A plethora of Web sites are devoted to energy basics.A good one that provides a general overview of energy andwork is the Iowa Public Television Web site.1 This engagingWeb site is broken down to make it easy to read; the text of theWeb site is fragmented into small and easily digestible bits, withimages sprinkled throughout. The Web site also includestimelines showing the progression of how and when dierentenergy types have been used. For example, nuclear energy usestarts with Marie and Pierre Curies discovery of radium andpolonium in 1898. This timeline provides a useful introductionto discussing nuclear technology as an energy source and as aweapon, highlighting important U.S. policies on these subjects.A more formal approach can be found in ChemPRIME, a

    textbook oered by the Chemical Education Digital Library(Figure 1).2 Chapter 15, Thermodynamics: Atoms, Moleculesand Energy is a nice place to start. ChemPRIME is an online,wiki textbook; the CoreChem is the basic textbook material.With a variety of images, videos, and Jmol molecules embeddedin the text, students will get a comprehensive look at energy. Aunique feature of ChemPRIME is the exemplars. Exemplarsgive students the option to learn about basic chemistry contentin the context of another eld. For example, students may bemore interested in learning about thermodynamics as it relatesto food or biology. ChemPRIME allows students to explore thechemistry content in the context of a topic they may nd moreengaging and personally relevant. Many of the exemplars arecurrently empty, but this could be taken as an opportunity toengage students. Students could be asked to create an exemplarto share with others.For students in elementary and middle school, Energy Kids

    by the U.S. Energy Information Administration is a useful Web

    site (Figure 2).3 In addition to presenting a lot of helpfulinformation about the basics of energy, energy sources, and

    using energy, a variety of games and activities are also available,including energy-related sodoku and crossword puzzles. Manyexperiments are described, some of which could be done inclass or used as science fair projects. More basic energyinformation, presented in a highly interactive manner, can befound on the Energy Quest Web site presented by theCalifornia Energy Commission.4 This Web site presents energybasics, another timeline, movies, and more games. The jigsaw

    Published: May 11, 2012

    Figure 1. The ChemPRIME Web site home page. You can access thedierent chapters on the right side of the screen. Image used withpermission.

    Figure 2. U.S. Energy Information Administrations Energy Kids Website.3 The Energy Ant symbol is a registered service mark of the U.S.Department of Energy and is used with permission.


    2012 American Chemical Society andDivision of Chemical Education, Inc. 950 | J. Chem. Educ. 2012, 89, 950952

  • puzzles are engaging, but computers need to have Flashinstalled to enjoy them.Students will have fun creating tracks on Earth and in outer

    space using the Energy Skate Park oered by PhET.5 Availableas a free download, students can learn about conservation ofenergy using this interactive Java applet. Students buildskateboard tracks, and control the speed and starting point ofthe skateboarder. Students can also view graphs of potential andkinetic energy, discovering how these graphs change as theskater moves. If students enjoy building tracks on Earth, theywill have even more fun building a track in outer space.For a collection of energy images created as part of a

    collaboration between the science and art department at MountMary College, see ref 6. Figure 3 is an example of one of theseimages.

    ALTERNATIVE ENERGYMany Web sites are dedicated to alternative energy in all itsforms, including solar, wind, geothermal, and so forth. The U.S.Department of Energy has an informative and comprehensiveWeb site, describing everything from energy sources to nationalsecurity.7 Recent, relevant news related to energy use andconsumption is available on this site, along with pages foreducators and students. The educator page links to a variety ofuseful resources, helping instructors to unearth lesson plans andactivities. It also links back to Energy Kids,3 which presentsresources on alternative energy, in addition to their resourceson energy basics.It is worthwhile to check out Alternative Energy.8 Instructors

    and students can browse current energy news and the newsarchives by category. There is also a forum where students canparticipate in virtual discussions with the general public aboutalternative energy. One caution is that this site has integratedadvertising, so instructors may want to check it out rst oravoid it.The six-and-a-half-minute video clip from the Teachers

    Domain outlines a variety of energy sources: topics such assolar, geothermal, nuclear, hydrogen fuel cells, and biomass arecovered.9 The video discusses the importance of energy in thefuture and in meeting the worlds growing energy needs. It

    gives a thorough overview of each alternative energy source,highlighting the benets and drawbacks. The Energy Hog Website presents energy conservation as a topic.10 The Energy HogWeb site has an adult site and a student site, with the adult siteoering information on conserving energy, as well as resourcesfor educators, and the student site featuring games galore. It isinteractive, fun, and educational. For example, students cansearch rooms in a house for the energy hog. Once they havelocated an energy hog, they are transported to a new game thathelps them combat the energy hog. For instance, one gametraverses a maze to change out old energy inecient light bulbsfor compact uorescent bulbs.

    Hydrogen Fuel Cells

    Though not exactly a new technology, fuel cells are currently ahot topic. The technology is generating much interest becauseit is a form of clean technology that produces water as its wasteproduct. Another exciting thing about this technology is thenumber of chemistry concepts covered. Some of the followingWeb sites may help instructors teach about this topic in class.HowStuWorks has a nice overview of the technology,

    including chemical half reactions.11 The article discusses thebasics of fuel cells, specic types of fuel cells, and even talksabout fuel-cell eciency. Students may also appreciate a videofrom this Web site that shows how fuel cells work. TheSmithsonian National Museum of American History has a greatWeb site all about fuel cells.12 The Smithsonian site discussesthe history of fuel cells and gives students an overview of thedierent types, as well as a basic introduction to fuel cells. ThePublic Broadcasting Services NovaBeta Web site13 gives aninformative selection of videos, an interactive fuel cell car, andan expert question and answer section. If students ask to see areal car that actually uses fuel cell technology, they can viewHondas Web site for the FCX Clarity.14 It is true that this Website is basically an advertisement for the car, but students canstill benet from seeing the chemistry applied.This Journal has a wonderful classroom activity by Tamez

    and Yu that allows students to create their own aluminumairbattery.15 While it is not a hydrogen fuel cell, instructors caneasily connect the concepts students learn making theiraluminumair battery to the concepts of hydrogen fuel cells.Access is free with a subscription.

    Biomass Fuels

    Biomass fuels are becoming more and more prevalent today.Fuel options at the pump now include gasoline with ethanolsupplementation, and it is not uncommon to follow a car onthe highway whose emissions smell suspiciously like frenchfries. The Bioenergy Feedstock Information Network16 has athorough biomass energy overview. It also has a variety ofresources available, including fact sheets, journal articles, anddatabases. The National Sustainable Agriculture InformationServices Web site also has a variety of useful resources.17 Forinstance, this Web site has links to success stories, stories ofstates and municipalities that have switched from petroleum-based fuels to biodiesel fuels for public transportation. TheWeb site also has links to curricula, primarily presentations foruse in a classroom. Instructors may want to carefully researchthese presentations; one of them references Wikipedia, whichmay be a concern for some instructors.To delve a little more deeply into the chemistry of biodiesel,

    the blog from Chemical and Engineering News18 is useful. TheWeb site is fairly technical but still not too dicult to read; it isappropriate for college-level students. The Biofuel Systems

    Figure 3. Solar Power, created by Shoua Lee and reproduced withpermission. When asked to briey describe this work, Lee wrote: Thesun emits energy to the earth constantly, even if we do not see it.Therefore, I want to portray the radiating beams of energy from thesun.

    Journal of Chemical Education Communication | J. Chem. Educ. 2012, 89, 950952951

  • Group LTD also has some interesting information about thechemistry of biodiesel, along with instructions to makebiodiesel fuel.19 It might be tempting to make biodiesel inclass; remember that although biodiesel is not dangerous, theneeded reagents to make it are.NovaBeta once again provides useful resources on their Web

    site.20 The Web site hosts an interactive animation, From PondScum to Power. The animation is a great way to teach studentsabout using algae for biofuel production; it is clear and easy tounderstand. NovaBeta has a number of other resources onbiofuels as well, from a question and answer section to videosthat are easily found on the site.Finally, the Teachers Domain provides both a lesson plan

    and a video that can be used together.21 The lesson plan hasstudents research biomass as a possible alternative energy to usein their community. Though aimed at a middle schoolaudience, this could be easily adapted to the high schoollevel. The link in Part II: Web Investigations, An InternationalEnergy Research Foundation educational Web site is broken:the correct link for that site on biomass is included in thiscitation list.22

    Instructors may also like to explore the American ChemicalSocietys, Chemists Celebrate Earth Day Web page.23 The topicfor Earth Day 2011 was Energy, It is Everywhere! Instructorsare sure to nd a variety of resources to support lessons onenergy at this Web site.With the resources identied here, perhaps the energy ow

    in class will increase and some blossoming chemists maydiscover a passion for alternative energy.

    AUTHOR INFORMATIONCorresponding Author


    REFERENCES(1) Iowa Public Television. Explore More: The Future of Energy. (accessed May 2012).(2) Vitz, E.; Moore, J. W. ChemPRIME. Thermodynamics: Atoms,Molecules and Energy.,_Molecules_and_Energy (accessedMay 2012).(3) U.S. Energy Information Administration. Energy Kids. (accessed May 2012).(4) California Energy Commission. Energy Quest. (accessed May 2012).(5) Adams, W.; Dubson, M.; Loeblein, T.; Perkins, K.; Reid, S.;Wieman, C.; Harlow, D. PhET. Energy Skate Park. (accessed May 2012).(6) Mount Mary College. Fine Arts in the News. (accessed May 2012).(7) U.S. Department of Energy. (accessedMay 2012).(8) Alternative Energy. May 2012).(9) Teachers Domain. Energy Sources Video. May 2012).(10) Energy Hog. (accessed May 2012).(11) Nice, K.; Strickland, J. How Fuel Cells Work entry atHowStuWorks. (accessed May 2012).(12) Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Collectingthe History of Fuel Cells. (accessed May 2012).

    (13) Public Broadcasting Service. NovaBeta: How Fuel Cells Work. (accessedMay 2012).(14) Honda Web page on the FCX Clarity fuel cell electric car. (accessed May 2012).(15) Tamez, M.; Yu, J. H. AluminumAir Battery. J. Chem. Educ.2007, 84 (12), 1936A1936B.(16) Bioenergy Feedstock Information Network. (accessed May 2012).(17) National Sustainable Agriculture Information Services. Biodiesel. (accessedMay 2012).(18) Engelhaupt. E. Biodiesel Chemistry 101. C&EN MeetingWeblog: Dispatches from Brazil. Posted online 29 May 2007. (ac-cessed May 2012).(19) Biodiesel Information. Biofuel Systems Group LTD. (accessed May2012).(20) Public Broadcasting Service. NovaBeta: From Pond Scum toPower. May 2012).(21) The Teachers Domain. The Biomass Balancing Act. (accessedMay 2012).(22) Biomass English Language Page at the Italian Energy Web site, (accessed May 2012).(23) American Chemical Society Website. Chemists Celebrate EarthDay. (accessed May 2012).

    Journal of Chemical Education Communication | J. Chem. Educ. 2012, 89, 950952952


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