Target Grade Level / Age Range:

High School: 9-12


45 Minutes


As a result of this lesson, the student will…

  1. Identify what ethanol is and its many uses.
  2. Identify what biodiesel is and its many uses.
  3. Identify the need to look into fuel alternatives such as ethanol.


  • Writing surface
  • Overhead projector
  • Post-notes
  • Small prize or reward
  • Note cards for Go Get It E-Moment
  • Bushel of corn in a bushel basket/container (round laundry basket also works)

Suggested Companion Resources


  • Alcohol – any organic compound in which the an oxygen and hydrogen molecule are bound to a saturated carbon atom
  • Bushel -  measure of capacity for dry goods
  • Ethanol – also called ethyl alcohol is produced from the fermentation of sugars by yeast. It is commonly found in drinking alcohol but can also be used as a fuel
  • E10 – a low level blend composed of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline
  • Gallon – measure of liquid capacity equal to 3.785 litters
  • Proof – measure of how much ethanol is contained in an alcoholic mix
  • Solvent – substance that dissolves a solute (chemically different liquid, solid or gas) resulting in a solution
  • Biodiesel – form of diesel fuel manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled restaurant greases. It is safe, biodegradable and produces less air pollutants than petroleum based diesel

Background – Agricultural Connections

Before teaching this lesson, the teacher should understand the basic chemistry of biofuels production and understand the difference between renewable and nonrenewable fuels. It is important to understand that biofuels can be made from any biomass (plant or animal matter) with small modifications to the process.

Interest Approach or Motivator

Bring in a bushel of corn and place in front of the classroom. If a bushel basket and corn is unavailable, bring in a round laundry basket to provide a visual for the students of a bushel.

14.2 billion bushels of corn were produced in the United States in 2014. A bushel of corn weighs about 56 pounds depending upon the moisture content in the kernels.

Using the post-it notes write down as many products made from corn as you can. Think about types of food, additives and byproducts. Be specific. Remind students to think about all aspects of that corn. You have two minutes. Begin.

Direct everyone to stand up. We’ll go around the room and say one product on your list. If someone says something you have on your list, cross it off. If you run out of things on your list, sit down. Last person standing receives a prize. After a winner has been identified, celebrate success and then move on.

Here are a few more items that can be created from a bushel of corn.

  • 31.5 pounds of starch
  • 33 pounds of sweetener
  • 10 one-lb boxes of cereal
  • 15 lbs of brewer grits (enough for 1 gallon of beer)
  • 10 eight oz packages of cheese curls
  • 1 lb of pancake mix
  • 22 lbs of hominy feed for livestock
  • 0.7 lbs of corn oil
  • 17 lbs of carbon dioxide
  • 1.5 lbs corn oil: cooking oil, margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressing, shortening, soups, printing ink, soap, and leather tanning
  • 2.8 gallons of Ethanol

And here are a few things that can be made from a bushel of soybeans:

  • 11 lbs crude soybean oil (Vegetable oil, creamers, margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressing, shortening, chocolate coating, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, insecticides, paint)
  • 47 lbs soybean meal (Swine feed, poultry feed, beef cattle feed, pet foods, fish feed)
  • 39 lbs soy flour (Bread, candy, pancakes, pie crust, doughnut mix, frozen desserts)
  • 20 lbs soy protein concentrate (Baby foods, noodles, cereals, confections, candy, sausage casings, flavorings)
  • 12 lbs isolated soy protein (Adhesives, fungicides, printing inks, plastics)

As you can see there are a lot of different items in a bushel of corn and a bushel of soybeans. Today we are going to learn more about the biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) that can be made.


OBJECTIVE 1. Identify what ethanol is and its many uses.

Ask students if they have heard of ethanol. Ask them what they think it is. Elicit responses. Have them capture the definition in their notes.

Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is classified in the alcohol family with many distinct properties that allows it to be used in many ways.

Before class, write the 14 facts about ethanol on notecards and post them around the room. Ask students to take their notebooks and move around the room collecting all 14 facts. When they have found all 14 facts and have written them in their notebook they can return to their seat and begin reviewing what you wrote. Share the slide with the full set of information and review with the students. Make sure students captured all the facts correctly.

  1. Ethanol can be used as a fuel when blended with gasoline or when in its original state.
  2. Ethanol is the most important member of a large group of organic compounds that are called alcohol .
  3. Alcohol is an organic compound that has one or more hydroxyl (OH) groups attached to a carbon atom.
  4. Alcohol is shown as: C-O-H or C-OH.
  5. In its pure form, ethanol is a colorless clear liquid with a mild characteristic odor
  6. Boils at 78C. (172F.)
  7. Freezes at -112C. (-170F.).
  8. The molecular weight is 46.07
  9. One gallon of 190- proof ethanol weighs 6.8 pounds.
  10. Ethanol has no basic or acidic properties.
  11. Ethanol can also be used as a raw material in various industrial processes.
  12. When burned ethanol produces a pale blue flame with no residue and considerable energy, making it an ideal fuel.
  13. Ethanol mixes readily with water and with most organic solvents.
  14. Ethanol is also useful as a solvent and as an ingredient when making many other substances including perfumes, paints, lacquer, and explosives.

Once you have reviewed the ethanol facts, ask students what they think biodiesel is. How is it different from ethanol? How can it be used? How is it similar to ethanol? Share the next slide with information on biodiesel versus petroleum diesel. Have students capture the information into their notes.

Biodiesel Compared to Petroleum Diesel

  1. Made of fatty acid methyl ester produced by transesterification of triglycerides from vegetable oil
  2. Each molecule is 17 hydrocarbons with one ester group
  3. Domestically produced from non-petroleum, renewable resources
  4. Can be used in most diesel engines, especially newer ones
  5. Less air pollutants (other than nitrogen oxides)
  6. Less greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., B20 reduces CO 2 by 15%)
  7. Biodegradable
  8. Non-toxic
  9. Safer to handle
  10. Petroleum diesel is made from crude oil extracted from the earth.
  11. Each molecule is 16 hydrocarbons
  12. Use of blends above B5 not yet approved by many auto makers
  13. Lower fuel economy and power (10% lower for B100, 2% for B20)
  14. Currently more expensive
  15. B100 less ideal for use in low temperatures
  16. Slight increase in nitrogen oxide emissions possible in some circumstances

What questions do you have about the facts? Allow students to ask any questions they have for clarification. We now understand what ethanol and biodiesel are and it is time to take our knowledge one step further. The next step pertains to why our knowledge about ethanol is important.

OBJECTIVE 2. Identify the need to look into fuel alternatives such as ethanol.

Ask students if they can name an instance where ethanol or biodiesel are being used as fuels? Then pose the question as to why ethanol and other fuel alternatives are being looked into. Teach through the following content.

Why biofuels now?

  1. Ethanol use and production has increased considerably starting in the 1980's. Growth in use of the E-10 blend has taken place because the fuel performs well in automotive engines and is competitively priced with "conventional" gasoline.
  2. Each bushel of corn processed yields 2-½ gallons of ethanol along with several valuable byproducts.
  3. Each bushel of soybeans yields 1.4 gallons of biodiesel and byproducts.
  4. It is in our state and national interest to reduce dependence on oil imports.
  5. Trade deficits are decreased and it allows for a dependable source of fuel if supplies would be cut off by unfriendly countries.
  6. It helps to stabilize price for the American farmer.
  7. The quality of the environment improves. Carbon monoxide emissions are reduced and lead and other carcinogens (cancer causing agents) have been removed from gasoline.
  8. Car owners gain from increased octane in gasoline which reduces engine knock. It also absorbs moisture and cleans the fuel system.

There are numerous thoughts and reasons behind why ethanol and biodiesel could be used as alternative fuels.


It is time for you to share your knowledge about ethanol. Give students two minutes to share their new knowledge about ethanol and biodiesel with their neighbor. One student should act as news reporter asking questions and the other student act as an expert ethanol and biodiesel answering the questions. Upon completion of the interview students should switch roles. Allow students one or two minutes to prepare for the interview and write questions or review their notes.

Answers to Evaluation:


  1. Ethanol
  2. Alcohol
  3. Octane rating


  1. 2.8
  2. 1.4
  3. 78C or 172F
  4. increases
  5. hydrocarbons
  6. stabilize
  7. colorless

Short Answer

  1. Reduce foreign oil imports, corn stabilization of price, cleaner burning fuel, higher octane, lower emission rates.

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Did you know? (Ag facts)

  • One bushel of corn can produce:
    • 31.5 pounds of starch
    • 33 pounds of sweetener
    • 10 one-lb boxes of cereal
    • 15 lbs of brewer grits (enough for 1 gallon of beer)
    • 10 eight oz packages of cheese curls
    • 1 lb of pancake mix
    • 22 lbs of hominy feed for livestock
    • 0.7 lbs of corn oil
    • 17 lbs of carbon dioxide
    • 1.5 lbs corn oil: cooking oil, margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressing, shortening, soups, printing ink, soap, and leather tanning
    • 2.6 gallons of Ethanol
  • One bushel of soybeans can produce:
    • 11 lbs crude soybean oil
    • 47 lbs soybean meal
    • 39 lbs soy flour
    • 20 lbs soy protein concentrate
    • 12 lbs isolated soy protein

Extension Activities

  • Put students into groups of 2 or 3 and have them create a slogan or jingle for ethanol as a fuel using the identified reasons for looking into alternative fuels. Challenge students to think creatively to develop something catchy. When completed, have the students present their slogan or jingle. Have each student write down their slogan or jingle so that it can be posted in a corner of the room for later use with other lessons.
  • Have students develop a one page handout that tells what ethanol is and why it should be used. This promotional handout could be given out within the school to other students and to people at public events such as a county fair. The handouts would include facts and might also include pictures, websites, and contact information for those people that would like more information about ethanol.
  • Research more into how ethanol is made and the benefits of using ethanol. Find out where the closest ethanol plants are located and potentially contact the plant to plan a visit. Take all of this information and put it into a written report, video, or media presentation to present to others.


  • Adapted from Renewable Fuels Instructional Materials: Copyright © 2009 by National FFA Organization. Used by permission.
  • E-Moments® is a registered trademark of the National FFA Organization. Copyright © 2004 by National FFA Organization. Used by permission.
  • New materials, updates and revisions were funded in part by a grant from the Iowa Energy Center as a special project of the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation.


Will Fett

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • Theme 1: Agriculture and the Environment
    • Evaluate the various definitions of “sustainable agriculture,” considering population growth, carbon footprint, environmental systems, land and water resources, and economics
  • Theme 2: Plants and animals for food, fiber and energy
    • Identify renewable and nonrenewable energy sources
    • Discuss reasons for government’s involvement in agricultural production, processing, and distribution

Education Content Standards

  • HS-ESS3-1. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.
  • HS-ESS3-2. Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.*
  • SS.9–12.E.2 Essential Concept and/or Skill: Understand the role of scarcity and economic trade–offs and how economic conditions impact people’s lives

Common Core Connections

  • NL-ENG.K-12.6. Applying knowledge.
  • WHST.9–10.7  Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.