Episodes - Lessons
Life Cycles of Fuels
Life Cycles of Fuels


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.