What happens when a tire is no longer usable? Where does it go? Join Into the Outdoors
Adventure Team as we investigate sustainable solutions for scrap tires.

Every year over 300 million tires are discarded in the US. In the past, they were thrown into
landfills or dumped illegally. That’s a lot of waste! But today there are many ways scrap tires
can be reused or recycled. The ITO Adventure Team travels to Michigan, Colorado and
Minnesota to learn how scrap tire disposal is being managed. We learn why illegal dumping is
hazardous to human health and the environment.

In Minnesota, we learn about Tire-Derived Aggregate (TDA). It’s durable, light-weight,
permeable, and can be used in a variety of engineering and construction applications. It
prevents frost heaving, solves sinking soil issues, and can even be used to help clean storm-
water contaminants.

In Michigan and Colorado, we discover several other products made from scrap tires. Tires can
be shredded into different sizes for use as landscaping, molded products, road coverings, and
more. It can also be processed into Tire-Derived Fuel, which provides even higher BTUs than

Sometimes environmental issues feel like mountains, but with creative ideas and working
together, we can make a difference! If we can find sustainable solutions for a material like
tires…what other environmental solutions can we come up with?!

We are all aware of global warming, but did you know there are many solutions which currently exist or are being developed that can slow or stop climate change? There are many ways you and your family can make a difference. Follow Into the Outdoor Adventure Team members as they explore different climate solutions.


The video here and following information are designed as an introduction and companion to the four (4)  lesson activities at the bottom of this page from our educational partners at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

Scientists around the world agree that climate change is impacted by  humans burning fossil fuels. Then there's ozone, methane and sulfur dioxide adding to today's air pollution soup. Yet carbon dioxide, released from the constant burning of fossil fuels to produce energy, remains the 500-pound gorilla lurking in the atmosphere. From fossilized wood (coal), to natural gas (methane), to the assortment of refined fuels made from crude oil, the energy they produce powers almost every fragment of society. Essentially everything you see moving or lighting up is powered in one way or another from burning fossil fuels. Nope, there's no free carbon dioxide ticket when you turn on the TV or use your cellphone either. Chances are that your electricity to power them also comes from burning one or more fossil fuels - not to mention the various fossil fuels used to manufacture those items and countless other products we use daily.

If you asked most people on the street what fossil fuels are made from, you might be surprised at the answers. See and hear some for yourself by watching the video quiz on this linked "Energy Science" page  or the third video thumbnail on the right. The answers you'll hear might be funny or unsettling. It's logical to imagine that solid or liquid fossil fuels might be formed from something that was solid or liquid. Makes sense, right? But the science behind their formation is the same today as it was hundreds of millions of years ago when most fossil fuels were being formed.


All life, including fossils and their preserved carbon, came primarily from CO2 in the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. (See the linked video above on Decoding Photosynthesis to get a fresh perspective on that science.) Despite that fact, when many people see a tree or a plant, they think that the solid parts came from the soil, water, or nutrients in the ground. Though they played a role, the carbon-based materials in the plant were formed using carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that's converted to plant cells using the energy of the sun. This process of photosynthesis also accounts for creating the base of the food web in our oceans too - and was also the key in the formation of most ancient lifeforms that make up natural gas and crude oil.

Now that you're armed with all this knowledge, your logical question might be, Alright, so how can decoding the different CO2 life cycles of various fuels offer us insights to solutions for the future of the planet?  Well, that's what the video here and linked classroom lesson activities can help you discover. You really didn't expect us to tell you all the answers. Besides, we'd feel horrible cheating you out of the thrill and enlightenment of self-discovery with your peeps.

So watch the video above as your primer to become familiar with the topic, then share the free linked lessons from our educational partners with your teacher and classroom. Also check out our "Bioenergy Careers Callout" video. To discover more about our collective energy future, explore the websites of our key partners here in energy education to expand your energizing journey.

WI-Energy-Institute_4c_C_tag-01The Wisconsin Energy Institute (WEI) supports the energy-related research of more than 100 faculty and scientists on the University of Wisconsin­­­–Madison campus. As a nationally-recognized, interdisciplinary research institute, they; 1) Discover and deploy innovative energy technologies and public policy solutions, 2) Provide a public forum in which to learn about and discuss energy challenges, 3) Engage industry in high-impact research collaborations.

GLBRC_primary_cmyk_gradientThe Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) is led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with Michigan State University as a major partner, and is one of three bioenergy research centers established in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

WI KEEPThe Wisconsin K-12 Energy Education Program (KEEP) was created to promote energy education in Wisconsin schools. With support from Alliant Energy, Madison Gas & Electric, We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service, WPPI Energy, and Xcel Energy, KEEP leverages teacher education to improve and increase energy literacy in Wisconsin's K-12 schools as a means of contributing to statewide energy savings.

If you drive or ride in a car, then you burn gasoline, right? And it’s likely blended with some stuff called ethanol. So it only makes sense that you really should know what both of those fuels are made from, and maybe even how they’re made.

Natural gas also plays a vital role in your life, especially if you want to heat your home, office or school this winter. So what is it, really? And how’s it different from gasoline?

First, gather your friends or family around the computer and have everyone get ready to write down their answers on separate sheets of paper. Now start playing the video, and get ready to hit the “pause button” (II – lower left on video player screen) after one of our Energy Investigators asks one of the critical energy questions. Then have everyone write down the question and their IQ answer.

Once everyone writes their answer, resume playing the video to see what these people filling up their vehicles at the gas station had to say. Then pause the video again and start a fun debate about who has the right answer and why. When you’re ready for the next question, move on and explore all the different areas of your energy savvy.

But when you’re finished playing the quiz, will you really know all the correct answers? Maybe not. And will you be qualified to intelligently discuss the pros, cons, or science behind each critical energy question? Fear not, friend. Answers to all of the questions and so much more await you with only a few clicks of your mouse. Simply go back to the Energy Science icon on the homepage, and choose the most logical topic to discover the real science that drives your everyday world.

Also, take a moment and explore the Energy category landing page that explains much more about our energy education program. The video there is the same energy quiz found on this page. And stay tuned to both your television and online for our upcoming episode and classroom science videos on The reality, science and solutions to, SHAPING OUR ENERGY FUTURE.

Now that you’re thinking about biofuels… What’s your definition of a “biofuel”? And what do you think biofuels are used for?

Most of the fuel we burn in our cars and trucks is made from ancient sequestered solar energy that was converted into crude oil millions of years ago. Check out the other topics in our Energy Science category to learn more about the science of hydrocarbons. But up to 10 percent of that blended fuel actually contains modern renewable solar energy that’s been converted into what’s called ethanol, which is a type of biofuel that can help cars and trucks run cleaner and more efficiently.

If you studied photosynthesis, you know that plants, like corn, use solar energy in the chloroplasts in their leaves to covert atmospheric carbon dioxide, water and nutrients into carbohydrates; the starches and sugars that make up the plant. And during the process, plants give off oxygen, which is vital to us mammals.

In corn plants, it’s the corn seeds or kernels that have the greatest concentration of carbohydrates. That’s why they feed it to fatten livestock and poultry. Each kernel contains 62% starch, 20% protein and fiber, 15% water, and 4% oil. And it’s that converted and stored solar energy that ethanol refineries use to make ethanol. But that’s no easy feat. It requires serious science and technology as you’re about to discover as you watch this video.

For fun, also take a moment and check out the jazzed ethanol industry careers video on the right. Then, click the link of our educational partner here to dig even deeper into the science of ethanol production.

Okay, we admit that harnessing the biochemical reaction of yeasts converting the carbohydrates in corn mash into ethanol is pretty slick (as ancients discovered eons ago, though they didn’t use fancy enzymes in the process).

And we suppose the ancient cultures may have used the leftover fermented mash to feed animals. But unlike ages ago, today’s ethanol production facilities produce something called DDG or “dried distiller’s grain” that is shipped around the world.

Before we get into what we do with the co-products of ethanol production, let’s first get that ethanol into your fuel tank. The process is pretty straightforward. Once it’s extracted, it’s stored then shipped to terminals where it’s blended with conventional hydrocarbon based fuels such as gasoline. One very cool reason they blend it is that ethanol actually increases the “octane” or combustion performance of fuels plus reduces burnt fuel emissions. That’s one “two-for” in dealing with ethanol. Watch the video here to get the full story.

The second “two-for” is the co-products they produce from the by-products of the process. The first biggie is DDG (dried distiller’s grain). It’s a high-protein dried corn meal that is used primarily for animal feed for both livestock and poultry. It’s gained such widespread use that it’s shipped on freighters around the world and ultimately helps feed populations in distant lands such as the far-east nations.

And just when you thought you were done with the co-products, some engineer holds up a bottle of oil… distiller’s corn oil that’s a prime feed-stock that’s used in making biodiesel. But that’s another story for later on. Be sure to check out those biodiesel science videos and lesson under the Energy category.

To further decode the technology of ethanol and co-product production, have your teacher download the lesson activities below for hours of peer-driven learning in your classroom with your peeps. You can also learn lots more by reading the advanced information in the Learn More section below by clicking on the icon.

To learn about the production of biodiesel, another important biofuel, explore our videos and lessons ethanol. You’ll find them in the Energy Category on the Home page.

For fun, also take a moment and check out the jazzed ethanol industry careers video on the right. Then, click the link of our educational partner here to dig even deeper into the science of ethanol production.

The future of bioenergy has come a long way since they produced Back to The Future 2 in 1989. Back then, they fictionalized the concept of putting waste products into some kind of futuristic "bioenergy converter" to power the vehicle's engine.

No, we can't put garbage into our fuel tanks yet to power our vehicles. But we have come a long way in the evolution of biofuels as scientists and engineers can now create crystal clear biodiesel from a variety of discarded cooking oils and even animal fat. One of the terms they use for this process is working with flexible feedstocks.

So why go to all the trouble, technology and expense to make biodiesel when we can get it from crude oil refineries? Experts say there's plenty of good reasons beyond the obvious reason that it makes good sense for the Planet to take waste products and recycle them into a beneficial product. Plus, biodiesel is nontoxic, is free of aromatics, increases engine "lubricity" (watch the video to learn more about that one) and yields 92% of the energy of hydrocarbon-based diesel fuel.

One of the prime feedstocks they use in making biodiesel just happens to be one of the co-products they produce from making ethanol, another form of bioenergy - DCO or distiller's corn oil. Pretty cool loop when you think about it. So really, animal fat derived from animals eating plant (corn) carbohydrates, used cooking grease (that probably contains corn oil) and distiller's corn oil all connect with renewable corn crops grown in America's heartland.

To really decode the science behind this biodiesel production, have your teacher download the discussion guide and lesson activities below for hours of peer-driven learning in your classroom with your peeps. You can also learn lots more by reading the advanced information in the Learn More section below by clicking on the icon.

To learn about the production of ethanol, another important biofuel, explore our videos and lessons ethanol. You’ll find them in the Energy Category on the Home page.

For fun, also take a moment and check out the jazzed bioenergy industry careers video on the right. Then, click the link of our educational partner here to dig even deeper into the science of biodiesel production.



To decode the science of crude oil formation we first need to go back in time. Waaaay back! We have to set our geologic clocks back tens and even hundreds of millions of years to a time when ancient seas covered much of North America. Small lifeforms, mostly algae, and tiny creatures known as zooplankton lived in these ancient seas. They produced their life energy by using CO2, water, and sunlight. Like all living things, these plants and animals eventually died. Their remains fell to the bottom and mixed with and were buried by sediment. Their remains and seafloor sediment piled up for millions of years.

Eventually, the pressure from the piled sediment and heat caused changes in the plant and animal, or organic, materials into a wax-like material called kerogen. Another by-product of this pressure is a tar-like substance known as bitumen, which we will learn more about later.

Catagenesis happens next. Big word. Essentially, catagenesis is the cracking of kerogen into smaller, hydrocarbon molecules that make up crude oil. Hydrocarbons are carbon atoms that have their “outer shell” filled only with hydrogen atoms. The minerals contained in the plant and animal remains mentioned earlier have an important role in catagenesis. They function as catalysts, materials that speed up or change the outcome of a reaction without being used up in the reaction itself. The catalyst helps catagenesis continue and, if the levels of pressure and temperature are just right, it forms crude oil – ta-da!

When you're ready to drill even deeper into the science of crude, click on the "Learn More" tab below to discover more about the mysteries of crude oil formation and exploration. Filling up your gas tank will never be the same again.

Plus, take a moment and check out the jazzed petroleum industry careers video on the right. Then, click the link of our educational partner here to dig even deeper into the science of refining and transporting crude oil.



Farming and raising animals is not the same everywhere.  Each tract of land has its own soil type, bedrock, plant cover type and percentage, water flow and slope.  All of these factors play a part in the vulnerability of surface and ground water to contamination by farm run-off.  This runoff could contain manure, fertilizer, herbicides, insecticides or other substances from machinery and operations.  The contaminants in the run-off could kill aquatic plants and insects at the base of the food web, or make them grow too numerous.  Each situation puts the aquatic ecosystem off balance and lowers species diversity by decreasing the survival rate of sensitive organisms.

So what makes a forest ecosystem dynamic and sustainable? Discover the answers by watching the four parts of this science show and reading the information below. And to take this learning adventure into your classroom, have your teacher download the free Lesson Activity at the bottom of this page so everyone can share in the fun of this inquiry based learning.

Well, it's because a forest is constantly changing.  Various processes take place in the forest that are crucial to life… such as getting clean air to breathe or clean water to drink. It starts when trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and then convert it into roots, shoots, wood, leaves, flowers, and fruits through the process of photosynthesis.  Photosynthesis is where plants use light energy, carbon dioxide, and water to make sugars and release oxygen, which is great for breathing. But as forests grow and regenerate, they also play crucial roles in the water cycle and carbon cycle. The four parts of this Into the Outdoors episode and the Serious Science video on Sustainable Forestry reveal the science behind our dynamic forests.

As bonus educational material for your classroom, below you'll find the high school activity from Project Learning Tree on Monitoring Forest Health. This activity is the first of nine found in PLT's Focus on Forests: Forest Ecology guide. Check it out on Focus on Forests from Project Learning Tree.

Share this forestry fun and education with your friends or classroom. Or, check out the "Sustainable Forestry" video on this site and its related classroom Lesson Guide. "Timber"

Plus, the educational partner noted below supported the video and lesson content here for all of us to learn from. They also offer other learning opportunities on their website. Educators are encouraged to evaluate and consider their science sources. Click on their logo to discover more.