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Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom

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Food for Thought Lesson Plans

Ethanol in Minnesota From Farm to Fuel

Grade Level

Grades 9-12

Purpose

Students will recognize the significant role that fuel plays in daily life and that agriculture can produce a renewable and sustainable biofuel, ethanol, to power vehicles, while providing food for the world and adding value to crops. Students will also identify career opportunities in the fuel, vehicle, and equipment industries.

Time

One to Three 55-minute class periods

Materials
Vocabulary
  • Crude Oil: Petroleum in its raw state before refining
  • Energy Security: The uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price
  • Ethanol: A renewable fuel produced by fermentation of plant sugars
  • Flex Fuel Vehicle: A vehicle capable of running on any blend of denatured ethanol, from zero to 85 percent
  • Fossil Fuel: A natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms
  • Lifecycle: All inputs and/or outputs of the process of fuel production and use, from extraction to refining and use, or planting the seed, growth/harvest, to refining and use
  • Octane: The measure of how much compression a fuel can withstand before igniting. The rating is used to identify gasoline grades at the fuel dispenser
  • Petroleum: Oil that is often obtained from wells drilled in the ground and that is the source of gasoline, kerosene, and other oils used for fuel
  • Photosynthesis: The process by which plants use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water. Photosynthesis in plants generally involves the green pigment chlorophyll and generates oxygen as a byproduct
  • Renewable Fuel: Fuel produced from a resource that is replaced rapidly by a natural process, such as plants (biomass), wind or sun
Background—Agricultural Connections

The U.S. and other nations throughout the world currently depend on petroleum resources to fuel vehicles, provide power and produce many products used every day. Dependence on this one, finite resource has negative implications to energy security, environment and local economy. Agriculture can provide a cleaner, domestically produced, renewable alternative to petroleum - ethanol. Students will learn how, over time and a history of events, petroleum became the primary fuel used, and how ethanol is now replacing a growing portion of our fuel needs. The lesson covers ethanol feedstocks (specifically corn), production, and co-products, benefits to fuels and vehicles, how ethanol blends appear in the marketplace and which vehicles can use them. Students will have a better understanding of the benefits and considerations of both fuel sources and will be able to make an educated decision about future vehicle and fuel choices. Students will also be introduced to a variety of careers in the fuel, vehicle and agriculture industries.

Interest Approach - Engagement

Begin by asking students how they got to school today. Did they ride the bus, drive their own car, get dropped off by parents, or walk or ride bike? If they rode in a vehicle or bus, what fuel powered their travels?

Then ask students if they know of any plants that can be used to produce fuel.

  • Corn, sugar cane, milo/sorghum are used to make ethanol
  • Soybeans, canola, corn (any plant with an oil component) can be used to make biodiesel

After this discussion begin the Ethanol in Minnesota: From Farm to Fuel PowerPoint presentation.

Procedures

The Ethanol in Minnesota: From Farm to Fuel PowerPoint presentation includes notes that can be used as a script or guide to conduct the lesson. If the teacher prefers a guest speaker with ethanol/gasoline expertise to provide the presentation for the class, please contact (952) 473-0044 or kelly@megcorpmn.com.

Example 1: One Period Lesson
Period 1
  • Present the Ethanol in Minnesota: From Farm to Fuel PowerPoint to the students
  • Students complete the Ethanol in Minnesota, From Farm to Fuel Review Sheet, Assessment and/or Crossword Puzzle
  • Homework or in-class assignment: Ask students to select a specific vehicle – it may be their dream car, a common vehicle they see on the road, or a vehicle owned by a friend or family member. Record the make and model of the vehicle. Research the vehicle online, (or in person if owned by friend or family), for fuel recommendations and octane requirements. Can it use E15? Is it required to use a higher-octane premium gasoline like 91? Record and bring to class the next day
  • At the beginning of class the next day before moving on to another lesson, ask students to volunteer the results of their homework. How many were flex fuel vehicles? How many can use E15? Tally the results to see how common each type of vehicle is among the class
Example 2: Two Period Lesson
Period 1
  • Present the "Fuel from Crude Oil" portion of the Ethanol in Minnesota: From Farm to Fuel PowerPoint to the students
  • Conduct one or more enriching activities (additional options are provided in the "Enriching Activities" section):
    • Watch one or more of the optional video clips on oil refining or extraction
    • Discuss U.S. petroleum dependence and potential consequences for current and future generations, for example:
      • Limited/no supply of petroleum fuels
      • Conflicts with countries supplying oil
      • Environmental concerns

How would petroleum shortages affect daily life?
Ask students to brainstorm strategies for reducing petroleum dependence.

Period 2
  • Present the remainder of the Ethanol in Minnesota: From Farm to Fuel PowerPoint
  • Following the presentation, have students complete the Review Sheet, Assessment Sheet and/or Crossword Puzzle
  • Homework or in-class assignment: Ask students to select a specific vehicle – it may be their dream car, a common vehicle they see on the road, or a vehicle owned by a friend or family member. Record the make and model of the vehicle. Research the vehicle online, (or in person if owned by friend or family), for fuel recommendations and octane requirements. Is it a flex fuel vehicle? Can it use E15? Is it required to use a higher-octane premium gasoline like 91? Record and bring to class the next day
  • At the beginning of class the next day before moving on to another lesson, ask students to volunteer the results of their homework. How many were flex fuel vehicles? How many can use E15? Tally the results to see how common each type of vehicle is among the class
  • If additional time is available, watch the optional videos and/or complete one or more of the "Enriching Activities";
Example 3: Three Period Lesson
Period 1
  • Present the "Fuel from Crude Oil" portion of the Ethanol in Minnesota: From Farm to Fuel PowerPoint to the students
  • Conduct one or more enriching activities (additional options are provided in the "Enriching Activities" section):
    • Watch one or more of the optional video clips on oil refining or extraction
    • Discuss U.S. petroleum dependence and potential consequences for current and future generations, for example:
      • Limited/no supply of petroleum fuels
      • Conflicts with countries supplying oil
      • Environmental concerns

How would petroleum shortages affect daily life?
Ask students to brainstorm strategies for reducing petroleum dependence.

Period 2
  • Present the "Ethanol 101" portion of the Ethanol in Minnesota: From Farm to Fuel PowerPoint
  • Conduct one or more enriching activities, for example:
    • Ask students to restate the benefits of ethanol and record them in a list on the board. Then have students come to the board and mark a tally next to each benefit they feel is important and would influence their future fuel and vehicle purchasing decisions. After all students have participated, total the tally of each benefit and reflect on which benefits are viewed as most important by the class. Which, if any, are not viewed as important. How might these values change depending on various demographics (urban vs. rural, adult vs. youth).
      • Discuss how these affect the local community. These may include increased farm income; jobs (equipment dealers, seed sales, trucking, biorefineries, etc); increased tax revenue; retention of families in rural communities; reduced air pollution.
      • Do they see any negative impacts in their communities?
    • Corn starch is not the only feedstock that can be used to make ethanol. Divide students into groups and assign each group with a feedstock to research. How are they different than starch? What are positive and negative characteristics of their growth and use in ethanol production? If not yet being used, what factors keep them from being used for ethanol production. Possible feedstocks include, but are not limited to: sugar cane; sorghum/milo; perennial grasses (miscanthus, switchgrass); sugar beets; corn crop residue (leaves, cobs, husks, stalks); algae
Period 3
  • Present the remainder of the Ethanol in Minnesota: From Farm to Fuel PowerPoint
  • Following the presentation, have students complete the Review or Assessment Sheet and/or Crossword Puzzle
  • Homework or in-class assignment: Ask students to select a specific vehicle – it may be their dream car, a common vehicle they see on the road, or a vehicle owned by a friend or family member. Record the make, model and engine size of the vehicle. Research the vehicle online, (or in person if owned by friend or family), for fuel recommendations and octane requirements. Is it a flex fuel vehicle? Can it use E15? Is it required to use a higher-octane premium gasoline like 91? Record and bring to class the next day
  • At the beginning of class the next day before moving on to another lesson, ask students to volunteer the results of their homework. How many were flex fuel vehicles? How many can use E15? Tally the results to see how common each type of vehicle is among the class
  • If additional time is available, watch the optional videos and/or complete one or more of the "Enriching Activities"
Example 4: Multiple Period STEM Version

Conduct any of the previous options. Following the lesson, conduct one or more of the optional labs.

Optional Video Clips
Optional Labs

A variety of lab experiments can be found online, including:

Contact MEG Corp at (952) 473-0044 or kelly@megcorpmn.com if a scholarship for lab supplies is needed. Scholarships are limited and available while supplies last.

Did you know? (Ag Facts)
  • One bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds and can produce 2.92 gallons of ethanol, 15.86 pounds of animal feed, 16.5 pounds of CO2 for carbonation and dry ice, and .8 pounds of corn oil
  • In 2019, 1.26 billion bushels of corn were harvested in Minnesota
  • Minnesota ranks fourth in the nation for corn production and fourth in the nation for ethanol production
  • According to the Renewable Fuels Association:
    • In 2019, there were 68,684 jobs directly associated with the U.S. ethanol industry and it helped support an additional 280,327 indirect and induced jobs
    • Ethanol contributed more than $43 billion to the Gross Domestic Product and added $23.3 billion to household income
  • According to a 2020 report done for the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association:
    • Minnesota’s 19 operating ethanol plants utilized 450 million bushels of corn (36 percent of Minnesota’s 2019 corn crop) to produce 1.31 billion gallons of ethanol, 3.6 million tons of dried distiller's grains with solubles (DDGS) and 327 million pounds of distillers corn oil in 2019
    • This in turn generated $6.7 billion in gross sales for Minnesota businesses and supported 18,974 jobs
    • Minnesota’s ethanol industry also contributed $1.5 billion to the state’s household income and paid $203 million in state and local taxes
Enriching Activities
  • Schedule a class trip to an ethanol plant to see ethanol production and related careers in-person. Contact MEG Corp at (952) 473-0044 for assistance
  • Research the various types and sources of oil throughout the world, their pros and cons (locations, extraction method, environmental effects, resulting products) and estimated reserves. Provide a report or visual display of your findings
  • Develop a brochure or flyer promoting ethanol and why it should be used. Include benefits as well as blends available and which vehicles/engines should use each
  • Ask students to restate the benefits of ethanol and record them in a list on the board. Then have students come to the board and mark a tally next to each benefit they feel is important and would influence their future fuel and vehicle purchasing decisions. After all students have participated, total the tally of each benefit and reflect on which benefits are viewed as most important by the class. Which, if any, are not viewed as important. How might these values change depending on various demographics (urban vs. rural, adult vs. youth)
  • Debate: Divide students into teams. One team speaks in favor of transitioning to renewable fuels, such as ethanol; the other team speaks in favor of continuing to focus on petroleum fuels
  • Jigsaw: Divide students into several groups. Assign each group a topic area to research and discuss, then present to the class. Topics may include:
    • U.S. petroleum dependence – potential consequences for current and future generations
      • Limited/no supply
      • Conflicts with countries supplying oil
      • Environmental concerns
    • Strategies for reducing petroleum dependence (alternative fuels, increased efficiency/higher miles per gallon, increased mass transit and ridesharing)
    • Ethanol benefits (renewable, environment, local economy, energy security, octane)
  • Homework: Have students develop a set of questions and interview parents or neighbors about their knowledge and opinions of gasoline and ethanol fuels. For example:
    • Are they using an ethanol blend in their vehicle? (If they say "no", let them know that ethanol is found in virtually all regular gasoline.)
    • Do they believe developing alternatives to petroleum fuels is important? Why or why not?
    • Do they think ethanol is a good alternative to gasoline? Why or why not?
    • What alternatives do they feel are good options, if any?
Sources/Credits

Information included in this lesson has been sourced from:

  • Energy Information Administration: EIA.gov
  • American Lung Association in Minnesota: MNFuels.com
  • Renewable Fuels Association: ethanolrfa.com
  • Minnesota Corn Growers Association: MNCorn.org
  • National Corn Growers Association: NCGA.com
  • Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association: MNBiofuels.com
  • Minnesota Department of Agriculture: MDA.state.mn.us
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture: USDA.gov
  • Historic Vehicle Association: Historicvehicle.org/ethanol-timeline/
  • Minnesota Public Radio: Minnesota.publicradio.org/projects/2006/09/energyproject/timeline.shtml
  • Ethanolhistory.com
  • EnvironmentalHistory.com
National Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
T2.9-12
  • c. Discuss reasons for government’s involvement in agricultural production, processing, and distribution
T4.9-12
  • a. Correlate historical events, discoveries in science, and technological innovations in agriculture with day-to-day life in various time periods
  • b. Describe how agricultural practices have contributed to changes in societies and environments over time
  • g. Provide examples of how processing adds value to agricultural goods and fosters economic growth both locally and globally
T5.9-12
  • e. Discuss how agricultural practices have increased agricultural productivity and have impacted (pro and con) the development of the global economy, population, and sustainability
Minnesota Academic Standards
Social Studies - Economics

9.2.4.7.3 Describe commodities as natural resources necessary to produce goods and services; explain how world events and market speculation can affect commodity and other prices. For example: Commodities—grains, minerals, oil, fruits, natural gas, wood. Effects—unrest in oil-producing nations raises the price of oil which raises the cost of energy of producing many goods and services.

Science

9E.3.2.2.1 Evaluate or refine a technological solution to reduce the human impacts on a natural system and base the evaluations or refinements on evidence and analysis of pertinent data.

Common Core Connections
Reading

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Speaking and Listening

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2 and 11-12.2
Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3 and 11-12.3
Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.

Science & Technical Subjects

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.3 and 11-12.3 (When optional lab experiments are completed)
Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text.

Language

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4.a and 11-12.4.a
Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence, paragraph, or text; a word's position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.