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Joshua D. Hartman
Graduate Student Assistant
Department of Chemistry
University of California, Riverside
Corn Ethanol: Using Corn to Make Fuel? 

This problem-based case study guides students through a systematic exploration of the scientific issues surrounding the production and development of bio-fuels. A PowerPoint presentation introduces a New York Times article outlining the impact current Federal renewable-fuel standards have on the allocation of our annual corn crop. The article argues that our current policy, which diverts approximately 40 percent of the annual corn crop towards ethanol production, is based on unfounded claims that such a practice will decrease our reliance on fossil fuels, decrease the cost of gasoline, decrease carbon dioxide emissions and increase the overall supply of gasoline. Students are next given two primary literature articles that address relevant scientific and technical considerations. The case study is designed to illustrate the direct application of chemical kinetics and catalysis to a timely issue with important political and economic ramifications. This case study is designed for a second semester/second quarter general chemistry course, and is generally presented after the units on chemical kinetics and rate laws have been covered.


Fuel from Water and the Sun: An Application of Electrochemistry and Thermodynamics

This problem-based case study presents recent advancements in the development and application of technologies geared towards harnessing sunlight for the production of hydrogen from water. A PowerPoint presentation introduces the topic with a New York Times excerpt about a growing market of fuel cell-powered toys. Might similar technologies also address our transportation needs? Students next read a general overview from Chemical & Engineering News about the challenges associated with developing robust and economically feasible water-splitting catalysts and the recent development of a low-cost heterogeneous cobalt phosphate catalyst. Students also read a primary literature article from Science on the cobalt phosphate catalyst and then complete a three-page worksheet (included in the teaching notes) as a collaborative learning activity designed to increase understanding of the basic electrochemical principles underlying hydrogen production. This case study was originally written for a second semester/third quarter general chemistry course and presented after the units on thermodynamics and electrochemistry have been covered.


Hydrogen Powered Cars: The Wave of the Future?

This problem-based case study guides students through a systematic exploration of the scientific issues surrounding the application and development of hydrogen fuel technology. A PowerPoint presentation introduces a New York Times article about the impact of our abundant natural gas resources on the cost of hydrogen fuel production. The article includes an Energy Department estimate that places the gasoline-cost equivalent of hydrogen fuel production, compression, and distribution at less than $4 per gallon, making it a viable option for the transportation sector. Students are then given primary literature articles and a worksheet to help them examine (1) the benefits and drawbacks of using hydrogen as a fuel in automobiles and trucks, (2) the current technological/engineering limitations of using hydrogen fuel, and (3) whether the pursuit of developing large-scale use of hydrogen-powered cars is the right direction for the country. Originally written for a second semester/second quarter general chemistry course, the case study is designed to illustrate the direct application of chemical thermodynamics and gas laws to the production and distribution of renewable fuels.


Liquid Coal: Producing Liquid Fuel from Non-Petroleum Sources

In this problem-based case study, students systematically explore the scientific issues surrounding the application and development of coal-to-liquid fuel technology. An introductory reading from the New York Times highlights the significant impact that federal policy decisions may have on both climate change and national security. Students are then given two primary literature articles that address both scientific and technical considerations surrounding fuel conversion and a set of guiding questions about the articles. Students are asked to identify the major scientific questions related to this topic and then explore how they can find answers to these questions in a chemistry context. The case study is designed to illustrate the direct application of chemical reactions and reaction stoichiometry to a major problem facing society. The case is designed for a first semester/first quarter general chemistry course, and is generally presented after the units on chemical reactions and stoichiometry have been covered.


Using Oceans to Fight Global Warming? 

This problem-based case study explores the scientific issues surrounding the use of large scale iron fertilization as a means of decreasing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.  A PowerPoint presentation introduces a New York Times article about a California businessman who chartered a fishing boat to dump 100 tons of iron dust into the Northern Pacific Ocean as a "state-of-the-art study." This was done without consulting scientific or political authorities. Students are then given two primary literature articles selected to help them understand the application of acid base chemistry and chemical equilibrium to an interesting issue connected to both the global economy and global climate change. This case study is designed for a second semester/second quarter general chemistry course, and is generally presented after the units on chemical equilibrium and acid/base chemistry have been covered. It could also be adapted for high school advance chemistry courses, non-majors introductory chemistry courses at the university level, and/or introductory courses in analytical or environmental chemistry.