Exploring Alternative Energy Resources

The primary learning objectives of this project were to introduce students to alternative energy sources and to learn about how some of these resources are being used in their community.  Students also learned about ongoing research being conducted in Christian County.

Students first learned about energy consumption, fossil fuels production and use, and why alternatives to fossil fuels are needed.  Information, video, and pictures were shared with students from a tour of Horizon Wind Farm near Lincoln, IL.  In advance of the field trip, the science classes discussed the use of miscanthus and switchgrass as biofuels as well as using landfill gas as a fuel source.

On November 17th and 23rd, approximately 220 seventh grade students alternately visited Dudley Smith Farm, Buckley Growers’ greenhouses, and the University of Illinois Extension Office. While at Dudley Smith Farm, students saw first hand the plots of miscanthus and switchgrass. They walked through the rows of tall grass and learned about how it grows. One group had the opportunity to talk to University of Illinois graduate student Andy VanLoocke about his research on water usage by the plants as compared to traditional crops. During their visit, the seventh grade students got to see the remote sensing devices and heard about other research projects taking place at Dudley Smith Farm.

While on their tour of Buckley Growers’, students viewed the greenhouse operations and were lucky enough to see thousands of poinsettias of various types and colors that were being prepared for shipment. Students learned how the methane or landfill gas is used as a heating fuel for the greenhouses.

Before returning to the school the students viewed the biomass pellet furnaces at the University of Illinois Extension Office. This was an important part of the day because it allowed the students to see the end results, from the field to furnace.

After returning to school, students were given a quiz about what they learned using pictures and facts from the field trip. Students were also asked to write a reflective statement about what they learned, what they liked best, and what they liked least during the tours.

In later months after obtaining a sample of the pellets made from the harvested grasses, students carried out experiments comparing heat production and carbon dioxide production from burning pellets from the farm compared to purchased wood pellets.