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Author Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 79, Issue 7 - April 2020
PublisherITEEA, Reston, VA
ReleasedApril 15, 2020
Copyright2020
ISBN2158-0502
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Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 79, Issue 8 - May/June 2020

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CLASSROOM CHALLENGE: The Grass-to-Energy Challenge

Introduction

Dutch researchers have developed technology whereby grass and other plants can generate electricity day or night. In this challenge, students and or teams can explore ways to utilize this technological advance and evaluate its impacts.

 

Researching the Technology

How does this technology work? It all starts with understanding the basics; as Thomas Edison would have said—how is the electricity produced? Students should first conduct research via the internet to understand how this technology works.

 

The potential output of this biomass is important to understanding what its electric-generation potential might be. One source estimated that 2.5 acres of grass can generate enough power for 24 homes or about 14 kW of power; and it can generate this power level for 24 hours. Knowing this, one can estimate the generation potential of certain plots of land; for instance, how much raw power can be generated on a:

•     Residential home lawn

•     Golf course

•     City park

•     Right of way…like for transmission lines

•     Highway meridian

•     School playing field

•     Industrial park campus

•     Other site(s)?

 

How might this compare to the land needs of other popular sources of alternate energy like:

•     Solar panels?

•     Wind energy?

•     Other?

 

Estimate what these already existing solar/wind technologies can generate compared to what the new biomass technologies could generate—on the same surface area of land—in this case 2.5 acres.

How would the power generation output be interfaced to homes, structures, or to the local utility system? Explore the potential safety issues involved with making these connections. Humans walk and play and recreate on grass. Their safety is an important issue.

Evaluate the costs of planting such grass; and, of course, “hooking it up” to generate electricity.

 

TETMJ20CCPossible Impacts

Can the new biomass be used anywhere we desire, or might it require certain conditions to thrive, grow, and generate electricity? Can the grass be cut and treated like any other grass we now use? How about the special plants—do they require special conditions for application?

 

What are the possible environmental impacts of the grass? Could it harbor pests and certain infestations that might transfer to other plants? Could it become a national problem like Kudzu has become in the southeastern regions of the U.S.?

 

If homeowners can generate their own electricity from their lawns, this can be a significant change to how we view the traditional functioning of the house. How might local municipalities view this from a safety code standpoint? Could the class speak with someone from the district/town who might be able to speak to this point? How might this impact landscaping around the home and the landscaping industry?

 

Like solar energy affected the nation’s electric utilities, how might electricity-generating biomass impact traditional electric utilities? Might they manage the large land area applications, or perform maintenance and operating functions? How do you envision their role in the future?

 

Could large plots of land such as golf courses, parks, and rights-of-way equipped with grass-to-energy systems become generating stations? Could empty lots and unused plots of land enjoy special incentives to be planted and become de facto energy production sites? Identify and discuss the following issues:

•     Environmental

•     Social

•     Political

•     Regulatory

•     Legal

•     Aesthetic issues that could come into play with this technology application.

 

Society might look differently at parkland if humans could play on it and also generate electricity using the grass. Identify the pros and cons of such a situation.

Think about how much energy the green areas around your school could generate and how this impacts the cost of traditional electricity for your school.

Let us suppose the grass is a very special kind of grass with limited application. How might it be worked beneficially into your town so humans and the grassland can coexist safely and beneficially?

 

Harry T. Roman is a retired engineer/inventor and author of technology education/STEM books, math card games, and teacher resource materials. He can be reached at htroman49@aol.com.