The news story suggests lots of interesting topics for discussion and research.
In groups discuss the differences. This isn't about right or wrong. Your choice is as good as ours as long as you can explain and defend it.
Now have a go at some of the topics - ours or yours.
Put together a proposal for the Dragons' Den to raise funding for your business, which makes algae biodiesel.
Make your proposal attractive but tell the truth. Identify the problems with algae biodiesel as a business and suggest how you are going to tackle these.
Here are a few sources of information to get you started, but search out more yourself:
1)Algae biodiesel video on CNET. "Most of the petroleum in your gas-tank was algae millions of years ago."
2)"The race is on for a new form of fuel. Finding alternatives to petroleum-based fuel and fuel-related products is urgent. Fortunately, scientists have been studying the production of alternative products to make a cleaner, greener fuel for years."
3) "Making Algae Biodiesel at Home is the quickest and easiest way to learn about algae biodiesel. Inside this magnificent work you'll get 185 pages of down and dirty info, plus another 450 pages..." (You don't have to buy the book but do read the blurb.)
Here are the sort of questions they ask for the Dragons' Den, and you need to answer:
Name of business. Describe your idea in one line. Amount of investment required. Give a clear and comprehensive outline of your business. What problem does your idea solve? What stage are you at with patent or copyright protection? Where are you up to with prototyping or testing?
Take a look at where algae grow, what they are, what they feed on, what problems they can solve and what problems they can create.
Give a short, illustrated presentation with examples of different types of algae and their biology.
In it you should tell some stories of how algae have affected people or whole communities, explaining exactly how they had this effect.
Take a look for example at algal blooms in Google News and at algae in the Real Science search engine.
If you've done the Dragons' Den assignment up above, you'll have taken a look already at the simple economics and business side of algae biodiesel - how much it costs to make, how much it can be sold for, how many customers there might be, and so on.
But there is another way to look at the economics of something new - by taking account not just of money costs but also costs to the environment.
Biofuels are supposed to be good for the environment by reducing our need for petroleum. But some studies have shown they can be bad for the environment..
Gather all the evidence you can and then form yourself into two groups. Take a look for instance at the Science Museum, the Guardian website here and here, the BBC, and any others you can find yourself.
One group will make the case for biofuels and the other the case against them. Both groups should think in particular whether the development described in this new story (what was it again?) will make a difference to the arguments for or against.
Have a class debate and a vote on which is the most convincing case at the present time. How likely is this to change in the near future. What kind of development or discovery might make it change?
Take a look at what catalysts do and explain it to your colleagues.
Have another look at the news story and explain why the solid catalyst the researchers have now discovered is more useful for making algae biofuels than the liquid catalyst most other people use.
Catalysts work by being in contact with the chemicals that are wanted to react more quickly.
Have a think about this. Decide why liquids might work better as catalysts than a big solid lump of material.
What could you do to a solid to make it work much better as a catalyst?
Once you have come up with possible answers to these questions test them by searching for examples of catalysts being used in everyday situations. You should be able to think of one right away - it's two words and it's used in cars to reduce harmful effects on the environment..
Investigate the number of gallons of petrol (gasoline) burnt each year.
How many companies producing 50 million gallons of biodiesel would be needed to replace all that?
Find some nice ways of getting across to people just what these big numbers mean.
Click on that picture on the right for instance to find out how many gallons of water go over Niagara Falls in a minute.
Find some other comparisons that might mean something to people - when a big number like 50 million means nothing at all.
1. A description of the potential algae has to offer. "The current state of the technology is not yet capable of achieving yields as high as theoretically possible, and the economics need further improvement. The UNH Biodiesel Group and a few other groups across the country are working on improving the technology for growing algae and processing it into biodiesel. Due to the lack of government funding for this field of work, UNH and its collaborators are seeking private partners to finance the continued development of the technology. For more information contact:Michael Briggs ;
2. The world's biggest publicly funded project to make transport fuels from algae launched in UK in Oct 2008.
3. Biofuels in the solid form have been in use ever since man discovered fire. Wood was the first form of biofuel used by ancient people for cooking and heating.