Science of Innovation: biofuels

It’s widely reported that the first “flex fuel” automobile able to run on either gasoline or ethanol was Henry Ford’s Model T. With hemp and other types of cellulosic biomass as the source instead of corn, Ford is quoted as saying that ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is “the fuel of the future” back in 1925. Well, the future is here and we’re still working to make it so. With biofuel innovations like the one highlighted in this installment of the “Science of Innovation” video series, perhaps the future is closer than we think.

The “Science of Innovation” video series from the collaborative team of NBC Learn, USPTO, NSF, and NSTA, can also fuel your STEM efforts. Use the series to fuel innovative thinking in your students as well. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office defines an innovation as a new way of doing something or a new way of looking at something. An innovation is not necessarily an invention, but could be a precursor or prerequisite leading to or enabling one to emerge. The innovative mind is an open, active one, capable of synthesizing and testing the synthesis of many ideas and elements of knowledge. That mind can work through a series of nonlinear and often non-sequential steps to take an idea or solution that addresses a particular problem or need from concept to a product or service in the marketplace.

The “Science of Innovation” video series is available cost-free on,, and Use the link below to download the lesson plans in a format you can edit to customize for your situation. Then, let us know how you like them!

–Judy Elgin Jensen

Image of Dreaming Spires Model T Ford Rally, courtesy of Richard Peat.


SOI: Biofuels highlights Dr. Steve Hutcheson and his innovative approach to producing biofuels from cellulosic biomass, using a bacterium discovered in the Chesapeake Bay.

Lesson plans

Two versions of the lesson plans help students build background and develop questions they can explore regarding the production of biofuels. Both include strategies to support students in their own quest for answers and strategies for a more focused approach that helps all students participate in hands-on inquiry.

SOI: Biofuels, A Science Perspective models how students might investigate a question about how differing substrates affect the production of a biofuel using a model organism—yeast.

SOI: Biometrics, An Engineering Perspective describes how students might model a growth chamber for large-scale production of a microbe.

You can use the following form to e-mail us edited versions of the lesson plans: [contact-form 2 “ChemNow]

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