Glencoe Earth Science

Unit 2: The Changing Surface of Earth

WebQuest Projects



In this WebQuest, students do some Internet research on alternative fuels. They learn about the different types of alternative fuels that are being used to power vehicles. They also learn what fuels are considered to be biomass fuels, and what those fuels are made from. Students discover that alternative fuels produce less air pollution, and that they can be economical as well. Finally, students answer some questions about alternative fuels, based on their Internet research.



While students are doing their Internet research, they will try to answer the set of questions given. Each web site has some of the answers to the questions, but several of the questions require information from two or more of the web sites. Students should be encouraged to explore web sites beyond the prompts given, especially the first two web sites listed. Allow students to examine the site by the American Petroleum Institute for another point of view on alternative fuels.


  • Research alternative fuels and contrast them with petroleum-based fuels.

  • Define biomass fuels and give several examples.

  • Describe the differences between biomass fuels such as ethanol, methanol, and biodiesel fuel.



Students will use the Internet links given to find out all about alternative fuels. They will learn about renewable energy resources and identify the types of fuels derived from biomass. They will describe the differences between several types of biomass fuels, and identify the advantages and disadvantages of such fuels as compared to gasoline. Students will also learn about the process of converting biomass into liquid fuels.



I class period for research and answering the set of questions



As students progress through the list of web sites, you may help them to focus on what they need to know to answer the questions given. Several of the web sites have links to other web sites with relevant information. If time allows, you may want to allow students to explore this subject further. Students may want to look into other renewable energy resources such as solar energy and wind energy; however, this webquest is limited to research on alternative fuels for vehicles rather than the larger question of power to produce electricity.


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for Rubric

You may assign 10 points to each of the 10 questions for a total of 100 possible points. The answers to the questions are given below. You may rate the answer to each questions by the following scale: Excellent – 9-10 points; Very Good – 7-8 points; Good – 5-6 points; Satisfactory – 3-4 points; Poor – 1-2 points; and Unsatisfactory – 0 points.

Questions about Alternative Fuels

  1. Alternative fuels are substantially non-petroleum-based fuels that yield energy security and environmental benefits over petroleum-based fuels.

  2. Examples of alternative fuels are ethanol, methanol, natural gas, liquified petroleum gas, hydrogen, coal-derived liquid fuels, biomass fuels, and electricity.

  3. Biomass is the total mass of living things (particularly plant material) in a given area that can be transformed into electricity or fuel.

  4. Biomass fuels include bioethanol, methanol, and biodiesel fuels.

  5. monomeric sugars such as sugar beets and sugar cane; starches, mostly corn; cellulose from any green plants, such as agricultural wastes or forestry wastes; and hemicellulose from hardwood and softwood trees.

  6. Bioenergy is just another word for biomass energy. Biomass can be converted into bioenergy.

  7. Biodiesel fuel is an ester, like vinegar. It is made from vegetable oils, animal fats, algae, and leftover cooking grease. It can also be made from soybeans, peanuts, cottonseed, sunflower seeds, and canola oil. It is biodegradable. Biodiesel fuel works in normal internal combustion engines.

  8. Ethanol is a clear, colorless liquid with a characteristic, agreeable odor. It is also called ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol, and has the chemical formula CH3CH2OH. It is usually made from starchy crops such as corn, but can be made from any type of cellulose. Ethanol made from cellulose may be called bioethanol.

  9. Methanol is also an alcohol fuel. It has the chemical formula CH3OH. It usually is made from natural gas or coal, but can also be made from biomass.

  10. Biomass is converted to ethanol in four steps. Green plants fix atmospheric carbon and convert it into organic carbon in the process of photosynthesis. Biomass is harvested. The biomass is fermented using yeast or bacteria to produce ethanol. The ethanol is processed to produce usable ethanol and byproducts.



Using information gathered from the Internet, students should be able to answer the questions given about alternative fuels. Students should be able to draw some conclusions about the suitability of alternative fuels to provide power for vehicles. Students should also be able to identify the economic and environmental factors that support the use of alternative fuels in addition to, or in place of, gasoline and other petroleum-based fuels.



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