Future Fuels: Lesson Plan

Check out the biofuels reactor that scientists in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park are using to create gasoline-like hydrocarbon fuels from plant material, and learn the challenges of creating biofuels.

UNC-TV Media

Alignment to NC Essential Standards

  • EEn.2.8.1 — Evaluate alternative energy technologies for use in North Carolina.

Learning Outcomes

Students will evaluate the benefits, costs and environmental impact of various alternative energy sources.

Essential Questions

  1. How is biofuel produced? 
  2. What are the benefits of producing biofuel? 
  3. What are the challenges associated with producing biofuel?


Students will view the PBS Learning Media video "Energy Sources," which describes the benefits and challenges associated with a variety of non-sustainable and sustainable energy sources.


Students will gather information regarding three different types of alternative energy sources. They should address the following topics during their research process:

  • Alternative energy sources
  • How is the alternative energy produced? 
  • What are the benefits of the alternative energy source? 
  • What are the challenges of the alternative energy source? 
  • Is the alternative energy source a realistic possibility in your area of North Carolina? Why or why not?

The websites below offer possible sources of information. There are many additional websites that students should find during their research. Remind students to check and see if a web page has multiple pages or links to additional pages with information that they need.


After working on research individually the students will gather in small groups to address the following questions:

  1. Define and describe three alternative energy sources. 
  2. Describe the production process for each source. 
  3. Describe three benefits of each source. 
  4. Describe three challenges associated with each source. 
  5. Evaluate: what is the bets alternative energy source in your area of North Carolina?


Students will view the NC Science Now video Future Fuels to learn about efforts to produce enhanced biofuel technology, and then answer the following questions.

  1. What are the natural materials used for the biofuel produced in the video, and what is the element required for conversion? 
  2. What are the three materials that emerge from the thermal conversion discussed in the video. 
  3. Define and describe the “green circle” discussed in the video. 
  4. Summarize the challenges involved with producing alternative energies such as biofuels, and the ways in which the cost of gasoline affect those challenges.


In the same small groups, students can write and produce a commercial or public service announcement that promotes one form of sustainable alternative energy, and explains why that energy source is better than the others.