Use these tips and activities to link UN sustainable development goal 8 to lessons on fermentation and bioethanol

Number 8 made of safety hats

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Get your thinking (hard) hats and dive into the UN’s sustainable development goal 8

Science and technology have a great impact on economic growth and employment prospects. In 2021 the UK government intends to make E10 – a mixture of petrol and up to 10% bioethanol – the new standard grade petrol in Great Britain (Northern Ireland in 2022), to reduce carbon emissions by 750,000 tonnes a year.

There is plenty of research into improving yields of bioethanol and this in turn has led to new employment opportunities, particularly in manufacturing sustainably produced bioethanol. The Royal Academy of Engineering commissioned a study into sustainability issues relating to biofuels. Another study looks into how biofuel production can be integrated with food and feed production in a ‘closed loop’ system.

The Sustainable Development Goals logo

This article is part of the Sustainability in chemistry series, developed to help you integrate the UN’s sustainable development goals into your teaching of chemistry. It supports Goal 8: promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Learning about bioethanol production draws upon ideas from biology (plant structure, saccharides), ecology and geography (land use), chemistry (separating techniques, hydrolysis, polymers, biodiesels, energetics, catalysts, life cycle assessment), physics (energy consumption) and economics (domestic industry, bioeconomy). Therefore, understanding developments in the production of biofuels links in with Goal 8: promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Download this

A revision activity, for age range 14–16

Use this worksheet to fuel your learners’ understanding about fermentation and bioethanol. Check recall and application of knowledge while developing student literacy, an extension activity and careers links are also included.

Download the student worksheet as MS Word or pdf and the teacher notes as MS Word or pdf.

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Download the student worksheet and teacher notes from the Education in Chemistry website: rsc.li/3ElgwD3

Put it in context

At 14–16 and 16–18, chemistry students learn about fermentation, one of the oldest known chemical processes humans have used for making alcoholic drinks and fermented food. At 14–16 this is limited to describing the manufacturing process using yeast, while at 16–18, students need to discuss the environmental and ethical issues linked to decision making about the uses of biofuel. In the 14–16 syllabus, students also learn about the industrial manufacture of ethanol using catalysts and steam.

It is important to show your students that chemistry can help lead the way to positive change through developing new sustainable technologies that lead to new employment opportunities and link this to balancing growing energy needs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Bioenergy is a growing sector and students can find out about greener fuels and the links to the UK economy. This could inspire them to consider pioneering careers in engineering and chemistry, which would enable them to play a key role in developing the world’s future climate-friendly energy systems and using cutting-edge technology and developments. They may even choose to become climate change ambassadors and engage in, or even lead, community projects.

Put it into practice

For 14–16 students, use the accompanying resource about E10 fuel to relate the information in the article to content learned in organic chemistry and the fermentation topic, and check recall and application of knowledge while developing student literacy.

Use this experiment with 14–16 students in England, Scotland and Ireland on the practical aspects of fermentation, linking this to catalysts, testing for gases and respiration.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have produced an excellent biofuels resource for 14–16 and 16–18 students including information and a range of worksheets, practical ideas, dry activities, crosswords and wordsearches.

Ask your students to research and compare three British companies that produce bioethanol. This could be used as homework or as part of group work and links to the Gatsby good career guidance.

This career map shows a variety of career opportunities in the bioenergy field and although is a USA-based tool, it should provide relevant career information. You can link the a future in chemistry careers page and this article about STEM apprenticeships to careers opportunities in the bioenergy sector.

Set 16–18 students a research project to explain different aspects of biofuels, as an extension to learning about alcohol production. Students could decide on their target audience when making their infographic/poster and present as part of an assembly, thus demonstrating STEM employability skills. You could run this as a school competition linked to STEM skills.

Get more resources

  • Use this starter slide to show an alternative way of making ethanol from lignin. 
  • Tee up your learners with information and guidance on T-levels, a new science qualification available in England which includes industry placements. 
  • Link to careers with our Chemistry: making the difference videos and let your learners know about the different study options available to them.
  • Use our organic chemistry worksheets for revision and more practice in applying knowledge in context.

This series publishes every Wednesday. Check out the series so far