Clean Coal?

Author: Mark Roland


2 Class Periods

Preparation Time:


Materials: Websites, listed below

Using the knowledge gained from the previous day’s lesson, students will continue to explore coal and its environmental health impacts. This is a good connecting lesson to both government and language arts. (The language arts class studied research topics such as determining bias and credibility in sources, and the government class covered policy-making topics related to environmental health.

Purpose –This lesson is designed for students to apply their knowledge of coal pollutants in order to understand clean coal technology.

Students will be able to:
1. Determine, based on their knowledge of coal pollutants, the effectiveness of clean-coal technologies.
2. State and defend a position on whether power plants in the US should be required to upgrade to available clean-coal technologies.

National Science Education Standard:
Content Standard A-Science as Inquiry
• Students in school science programs should develop the abilities associated with accurate and effective communication. These include writing and following procedures, expressing concepts, reviewing information, summarizing data, using language appropriately, developing diagrams and charts, explaining statistical analysis, speaking clearly and logically, constructing a reasoned argument, and responding appropriately to critical comments.

Content Standard F-Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
• Natural and human-induced hazards present the need for humans to assess potential danger and risk. Many changes in the environment designed by humans bring benefits to society, as well as cause risks. Students should understand the costs and trade-offs of various hazards--ranging from those with minor risks to a few people to major catastrophes with major risks to many people. The scale of events and the accuracy with which scientists and engineers can (and cannot) predict events are important considerations.
• Science and technology are essential social enterprises, but alone they can only indicate what can happen, not what should happen. The latter involves human decisions about the use of knowledge.
• Individuals and society must decide on proposals involving new research and the introduction of new technologies into society. Decisions involve assessment of alternatives, risks, costs, and benefits and consideration of who benefits and who suffers, who pays and gains, and what the risks are and who bears them. Students should understand the appropriateness and value of basic questions--"What can happen?"--"What are the odds?"--And "How do scientists and engineers know what will or may happen?"

Related and Resource Websites
http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/rev28_2/text/tec.htm (recycled sulfur)
http://www.netl.doe.gov/cctc/ (clean coal compendium)
http://nwitimes.com/articles/2003/12/08/news/local_illinois/55e39d45bd091eb686256df50080753d.txt (clean coal loophole)
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5174391/ (MSNBC article on coal)



Day 1 and 2

1. As students are entering the classroom, have these questions posted on the board for students to respond to:
a. How would you define risk?
b. When is reducing risk worthwhile? What factors might make it undesirable to reduce risk?
c. What is an acceptable amount of pollution?

2. Discuss the answers to these questions as a group. They are very open-ended questions, which should hopefully spark some good debate. If there is not enough discussion, try asking students about risks they can directly relate to. For example, teenagers die in accidents every year. Should we not allow teens to drive? Remind them of the research they did at the beginning of the year demonstrating how much energy consumption goes along with everyday products.

3. This is where a lot of the lessons from the quarter will begin to come together. Keeping in mind the ideas of conservation of energy, and the level of energy consumption in our society, plus the risks involved in coal burning, introduce the concept of clean-coal to your students. Clean-coal is basically a generic term relating to new technologies designed to reduce the amount of pollutants released when burning coal. All of them, of course, cost money, which influences the decisions to implement them.

4. Students should research clean-coal technologies and come up with a fact sheet, including the following pieces of information. They should look for a minimum of three technologies. For each one, describe the technology and how it works. Include figures for the cost of the technology, the emissions that can be reduced and the amount by which they can be reduced. Students should also include information about how common these technologies are used in today’s power plants and factories.

5. Along with the fact sheet, students need to write a short paper stating and defending their position on the use of these technologies, keeping in mind their cost and their effectiveness. Should they be required of all power plants and coal burning industries? Why or why not? Make sure your arguments are backed up by facts from your research!

6. Allow the remainder of this day and the following day for research and completion of the fact sheet and position paper.

Once students have completed their work and turned it in, you might want to debate the issue as a class. Although this could be a very political debate, it is important that the students use their science background to argue their point. We live in a world where our political issues require a technical background in order to fully understand the entire picture!

Embedded Assessment
Warm up questions
Class discussion
Use of scientific reason during debate
Position paper

Here are some suggestions for the fact sheet and the position paper:
1. Is all the information requested included on the fact sheet?
2. Is the information well organized and presented effectively, using tables or graphs when applicable?
3. Does the student state her/his position clearly?
4. Is the position well supported by facts gathered by the student?
5. Is the technical information presented correctly?

Completion of the fact sheet and the position paper if not completed in class.

Embedded Assessment













PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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