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Thermodynamics: Alternative Energy Research Project

Imagine that the state of Oregon has decided to investigate the use of alternative energies (non-petroleum based fuels and energy sources) as a part of a statewide ‘green’ initiative.  In particular, the state is looking at the potential benefits and problems with the following alternative energy sources:

Tidal, Hydroelectric, Geothermal, Biomass, Nuclear, Wind, and Solar

You, with your group, will represent a state-sponsored government panel whose job is to carefully research a single alternative energy option, and to come up with a proposal to the state that advocates for the best possible use of your chosen energy source.  As a part of your job, you will write (as a group), a research paper (minimum of 5 typed pages at 12 point font, double spaced) that includes the following:

  1. The science behind how the alternative energy source actually works to create energy
    1. Include as much detail as you can about the process required to produce energy.
    2. What resources and materials are required to create the energy?
      1. Include raw materials (ex: wind for wind power, uranium for nuclear power) as well as secondary materials, such as the resources needed to build (if necessary) other things required for the process, such as power plants, turbines, shipping of materials to your site, and so forth.  Try to account for everything that is required to make your energy source workable that is not already in place (ex: you can already assume that the local power grid is in place).
    3. How much energy can you produce compared to other energy sources?
    4. How efficient is the production of the energy? (What is wasted in the process of producing the energy?)
    5. What are some of the present challenges and successes behind the science of your alternative energy?
  2. The potential positive aspects of using the alternative energy source
    1. What makes using your energy source a good idea?
    2. What makes using your energy source better than using other energy sources?
    3. What will your energy source be best used for? (Where will the energy be best used?)
  3. The potential negative aspects of using the alternative energy source
    1. What are the problems with using your energy source?
    2. What are the general environmental problems with using your energy source?
  4. Some research showing where your alternative energy source is already being used successfully somewhere in the world
  5. A specific proposal showing how you think the state should utilize your alternative energy source
  6. A complete list of sources used for your research.

At the end of the block, your group will present your findings to the class using visual aids such as pictures, poster-boards, home-made videos, demonstrations or experiments involving your energy source, or other interesting and creative methods (the more creative the better!).  The class will act as critical scientists and will ask detailed questions about your proposal.  In the end, the whole class will vote on the best proposal (a prize may be involved…).  Expect your presentation to last at least 10 minutes, with 5 additional minutes for questions and debate.