Investigating and Using Biomass Gases

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Students will be introduced to biomass gasification and will generate their own biomass gases. Students generate these everyday on their own and find it quite amusing, but this time they’ll do it by heating wood pellets or wood splints in a test tube. They will collect the resulting gases and use the gas to roast a marshmallow. Students will also evaluate which biomass fuel is the best according to their own criteria or by examining the volume of gas produced by each type of fuel.


Physical Science, Math

Plan Time

2-3 class periods


Handouts included. Each group needs:

  • Safety glasses
  • Lab coats
  • Latex or nitrile gloves
  • 35-55 mL test tube with matching one-hole rubber stopper
  • Two ring stands with metal test tube clamp and clamp for Erlenmeyer flask
  • Three pieces of stainless steel or glass tubing, each approximately five cm long,
  • 250 mL Erlenmeyer flask with matching 2-hole stopper
  • Three pieces rubber or Tygon tubing, two approximately 60 cm long and one just shorter than the Erlenmeyer flask
  • Bunsen burner
  • Sink with faucet connection for tubing
  • Wood pellets or wood splints (enough to fill test tube approximately 3/4 full)
  • A variety of types of biomass
  • 200 mL graduated cylinder
  • Balance

National Sta​ndards: 9-12

  • SEC-A: 1.a. Identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigation.
  • SEC-A: 1.b. Design and conduct scientific investigations.
  • SEC-A: 1.d. Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.
  • SEC-A: 1.e. Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and models.
  • SEC-B: 2.a. Atoms interact with one another by transferring or sharing electrons that are furthest from the nucleus. These outer electrons govern the chemical properties of the element.
  • SEC-B: 3.d. A large number of important reactions involve the transfer of electrons or hydrogen ions. In other reactions, chemical bonds are broken by heat or light to form very reactive radicals with electrons ready to form new bonds. Radical reactions control many processes such as the presence of ozone and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, burning and processing of fossil fuels, the formation of polymers, and explosions.
  • SEC-B: 5.d. Everything tends to become less organized and less orderly over time. Thus, in all energy transfers, the overall effect is that the energy is spread out uniformly. Examples are the transfer of energy from hotter to cooler objects by conduction, radiation, or convection and the warming of our surroundings when we burn fuels.
  • SEC-B: 6.d. In some materials, such as metal, electrons flow easily, whereas in insulating materials such as glass, they can hardly flow at all.
  • SEC-C: 5.e. As matter and energy flows through different levels of organization of living systems—cells, organs, organisms, communities—and between living systems and the physical environment, chemical elements are recombined in different ways. Each recombination results in storage and dissipation of energy into the environment as heat. Matter and energy are conserved in each change.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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