A new energy era is upon us. As the landscape of energy technology use, exploration, and generation evolves rapidly to include renewable and "green" approaches, the technology education curriculum must be adapted to include additional levels of engagement in this technological frontier. The world's energy supply has long been dependent upon the use of fossil fuels, and nowhere is that fact more obvious and ominous than in the United States. Most political leaders in the United States and other energy-dependent nations have recognized the peril of continuing to extract a majority of energy resources from oil-rich nations and have begun investing heavily in renewable and sustainable alternatives. Martinot (2002) noted that current national trends are moving toward independence from foreign oil and declared that renewable energy has become the fastest growing energy technology in the world (p. 28). Similarly, Pimentel, et al (2002) suggested that new renewable energy technologies are being implemented in an effort to ease many of the problems that arise from the use of fossil fuels.
As energy technology advances to include more sustainable and renewable approaches, technology educators must develop curriculum and learning experiences that assist students in addressing energy problems, demands, and the technologies being proposed and implemented as potential solutions. Many of these technologies can be broadly categorized as renewable energy technologies. Renewable energy technologies are defined by the U.S. Department of Energy as energy derived from sources that can be continuously replenished (USDOE, 2009). These can include sources like the Sun, biomass, wind, hydro, and many others.
Open almost any newspaper today and one is likely to read stories addressing green technologies, sustainability, eco-friendly, carbon footprint, and a host of other terms used in the myriad fields of renewable energy technology. Brandt (2007) noted that commercial, industrial, and educational groups are adopting sustainable (or green) energy approaches ar an unprecedented rate. As these changes occur, it is important that technology education embrace these new technologies to provide students with access to the ever-changing field of renewable energy technology.
In many ways the field of renewable energy technology is being introduced to a society that has little knowledge or background with anything beyond traditional exhaustible forms of energy and power. Dotson (2009) noted that the real challenge is to inform and educate the citizenry of the renewable energy potential through the development of educational standards and new curriculum. While the technology education profession has been proactive in the development and proliferation of content standards that emphasize the importance of students developing an understanding of and ability to select and use energy and power technologies (ITEA, 2000/2002/2007), few suitable curriculum packages have been offered within the field. It is imperative that current students become aware of and familiar with emerging renewable energy technologies and how these technologies will continue to influence their lives in the 21st Century. McLaughlin (2008) noted that in order to stem the acceleration of global degradation, technological, social, and behavioral changes will need to take place among students. He further suggested that new curriculum and training will be needed to develop and maintain new alternative energy sources.
Although small-scale renewable energy technology projects can be implemented at most any school on a limited budget (one idea will be shared at the end of this article), there are a number of large-scale curriculum projects underway that can provide guidance. One such curriculum project was recently launched at the Center of Excellence in Renewable Energy Technology Education at Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas through a grant from the Arkansas Department of Career Education, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortium. ]he Renewable Energy Technology (RET) program, developed at the University of Arkansas, was designed to engage technology education students in a two-year high school curriculum followed by additional coursework at participating community colleges and universities. Focusing on the practices, technologies, and knowledge associated with the emerging field of renewable energy, RET provides learning experiences through the implementation of an engaged and applied curriculum delivery system that addresses the various processes, technologies, and services that constitute the industry. Students complete curriculum materials designed to explore the RET industries and the integrated roles played by producers, managers, laborers, regulators, planners, and others in the field of renewable energy technology.
Educational experiences in the RET curriculum include a basic introduction to renewable energy technology, technical thinking, basic mechanics, and more advanced courses like biomass and feedstocks, biofuels, and process instrumentation. Accordingly, the curriculum and its interaction with professionals in the industry provide students with the knowledge, skills, and experience to engage in the rapidly expanding field.
In addition to experimenting with technologies used in the field, participating high school students solve design problems that allow them to utilize cutting-edge technological products and systems. A brief sample of learning experiences includes:
* A comprehensive overview of renewable energies, including biomass, geothermal, wind power, solar power, tidal power, nuclear power, fuel cells, and hydropower.
* Social, political, and personal dilemmas associated with the field of renewable energy, including the future and past of energy consumption, the pros and cons of renewable energy, energy production and costs, energy conversion, energy assessments, fossil fuels, regulations, environmental issues and concerns, and the social and cultural impact of renewable energy.
* Examinations of the environmental health and safety, and hazardous materials and materials handling considerations associated with the field.
* ]he application of scientific laws (i.e., the Law of Conservation of Energy) toward the solution of problems in the renewable energy technology industry.
* A detailed study of the form, structure, function, and reproduction of plants and the production, handling, and maintenance of biomass in the alternative fuels industry, including experiments with types of biomass (i.e., annual crops, forestry byproducts, organic waste, landfill gas, etc.) economic costs, sustainability, and waste products.
* Experiments in biomass gasification by generating biomass gases, converting energy and mass from one form to another, conversion yields, biodiesel production, and other potential catalysts.
* Design problems related to the conversion of plant matter into fuel and ah examination of the environmental and social consequences of using various biofuels derived from biomass like grass, wheat straw, fungi, and algae.
* Biochemical methods involved in the generation of ethanol and other biofuels from feedstocks such as soybeans, corn, sunflower seeds, or canola; as well as biodiesel from animal fats, annual crops, waste vegetable oil, and other waste products.
The Renewable Energy Technology curriculum is an extensive set of high school courses that provide students with a set of scientific, technological, social, and workplace skills related to renewable energy. Students in the program apply learned principles toward the completion of experiments, design problems, and engaging activities designed to expose them to the breadth of the renewable energy technology field. The program not only provides students with an in-depth study of renewable energy but assists students in the development of technical problem solving, troubleshooting, and analytical skills. Moreover, the curriculum includes experiences that cause students to gauge whether appropriate and informed decisions are being made regarding energy production and distribution.
The comprehensive Renewable Energy Technology program is preparing high school students throughout eastern Arkansas to be leaders in the field of renewable energy. Additional information about this program may be obtained from the Arkansas Department of Career Education (http://ace.arkansas.gov/). However, all technology education students need exposure to this important field of study and experiences applying renewable energy in the classroom or laboratory even if comprehensive program implementation is not possible. Small-scale renewable energy technology curriculum and projects can be implemented at almost any school on a limited budget. Numerous high-quality resources and curricula are available from the U.S. Department of Energy and other state, provincial, or national governmental sources. The following activity was designed to provide technology education students with some exposure to the promise of wind energy and an introduction to the field of renewable energy.
Wind-Power Demonstration Engine
Travel across almost any western state in the United States or western Canadian Province and you are likely to encounter new wind generators dotting the high plains. With the increasing cost of fossil fuels, many energy companies have begun to supplement energy production capacity by installing these windfarms both on and offshore. Wind energy is a forro of solar energy and is one of the most basic renewable energy technologies. Wind is caused by uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, irregularities of the earth's surface, and rotation of the earth (USDOE, 2009). Wind turbines harness the linear wind flow to generate rotational mechanical power. This mechanical power can be harnessed for numerous human tasks, including the generation of electric current. Some modern wind turbines generate as much as 3.6 megawatts of electrical energy (USDOE, 2009). However, some of the earliest wind-powered devices were used to pump water or to grind grain into flour.
Wind power can be introduced to students by illustrating how a common box fan is really the opposite of a wind generator. A box fan uses electric current to turn fan blades that create artificial wind. A wind generator reverses this operation, using the wind to turn the fan blades of the windmill and a generator, creating the electricity. To illustrate the potential energy of a windmill, students will design and build a wind-powered engine that turns kinetic energy (artificial wind from a box fan) into mechanical motion capable of completing a human task. This wind-powered mechanical device will use wind-driven propellers to turn wind power into rotational mechanical power. Although whirligigs or whirliblades have been used as American folk art since the mid-nineteenth century and are often seen completing repetitive motions--such as chopping, flying, or sawing, the purpose of this device is to demonstrate mechanical power generated by renewable wind energy.
Procedures for Designing the Wind-Power Demonstration Device
The instructor will want to place students on design teams and ask each team to use a previously constructed fan Nade assembly (see Figure 1) to construct a demonstration engine that converts wind energy into mechanical power. To accomplish this task, teams will need to determine the type of mechanical output desired. Teams should be encouraged to consider the six simple machines (wheel and axle, pulley, inclined plane, screw, lever, and wedge) as potential mechanical outputs. Following ideation, teams should create sketches and drawings that illustrate how the fan blades will be fitted to a crankshaft, pushrods, the output device, and the frame (see Figure 2). Teams will need basic tools (i.e., pliers, wire cutters, soldering gun, drill press, screw drivers, etc.) and materials (i.e., wood, wire, solder, screw eyes, metal washers, etc.) to construct the device. Additionally, teams should be encouraged to use as many recycled materials as possible in their designs. The instructor may want to give bonus points to teams that effectively utilize recycled materials in their demonstration device. Although in some cases it may hinder team creativity, the instructor may want to illustrate successful designs during the design and ideation phases of this activity.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
Assessing the Wind Demonstration Device
Following the successful design and construction of the Wind Demonstration Engine, a testing area can be established using a box fan and an appropriate structure for affixing the device. Teams should begin the assessment phase of this activity by discussing the design and illustrating how the device converts kinetic wind energy into mechanical motion. Additionally, the team should respond to the following reflective questions:
* Why is wind energy considered to be a renewable source of energy?
* What are three examples of wind energy being harnessed to perform useful tasks?
* How is energy transformed in your demonstration device?
* What simple machines are included in your demonstration device?
* How could your demonstration device be scaled up to provide energy or perform work in full scale?
* What technological problems did the team encounter during the design-and-construction phase of this activity, and how were those problems solved?
* If you could start this activity again, what changes would be made?
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
The wind demonstration engine provides students with a simple application of renewable energy toward the solution of a straightforward problem. Although renewable energy technology may be a new term for many, students should consider that many technologies associated with renewable energy technology are simply new applications of older or existing technologies. For example, biodiesel has been available almost as long as diesel made from fossil fuel sources. Many fuels derived from feedstocks and methane gases were in use long before more modern gasoline. Finally, even though many of these renewable energy technologies (including wind power) have been harnessed for centuries, there are always new applications for this knowledge, and some of these new applications may be improvements over energy solutions in common usage today.
Brandt, D. (2007). A world gone green. Industrial Engineer, 39(9), 28-33.
Dotson, T. (2009). Harnessing the power of wind energy. Techniques, 84(4), 26-29.
International Technology Education Association. (2000/2002/2007). Standards for technological literacy: Content for the study of technology. Reston, VA: Author.
Martinot, E. (2002). Renewable energy gains momentum: Global markets and policies in the spotlight. Environment, 48(6), 26-43.
McLaughlin, C. (2008). Career connections: Environmental occupations. Technology and Children, 13(1), 14-15.
Pimental, D., Herz, M., Glickstein, M., Zimmerman, M., Allen, R., Becker, K., Evans, J., Hussain, B., Sarsfeld, R., Grosfled, A. & Seidel, T. (2002). Renewable energy: Current and potential issues. Bioscience, 52(12), 1111-1120. U.S. Department of Energy. (2009). Energy efficiency and renewable energy. Retrieved October 12, 2009, from wwwl.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/wind_how.html.
Michael K. Daugherty is Professor of Technology Education and Department Head, Curriculum and Instruction College of Education and Health Professions, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Vinson Carter is Instructor of Technology Teacher Education at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.…