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Publication #FOR270

Should We Use Wood for Energy? A High School Unit1

Jessica Tomasello Ireland, Martha C. Monroe, and Annie Oxarart2

Click Here for the pdf version of this document.

As communities across the South explore options for reducing carbon emissions with renewable energy resources, local wood may become an attractive possibility. Wood can be used as a source of power for small industries and to generate electricity for utilities. Communities may elect to use timber residue (branches left behind after logs are harvested), urban waste wood (storm debris and powerline trimmings), or whole trees from private, public, or sustainably managed forests. Whether using wood for energy is a good idea and how communities go about deciding whether to build a facility depends upon community residents' understanding of energy sources, biomass supply and cost, and forest management. This high school unit helps students gain knowledge and skills for making decisions about woody biomass.

The pdf document accessible via the above link includes a teacher orientation to 18 independent activities, divided into four sections. The activities are designed to enable secondary biology, environmental science, and economics teachers to provide background information on energy and woody biomass and to develop critical-thinking, problem-solving, and systems-thinking skills as applied to the concept of sustainability. Students explore advantages and disadvantages of various energy sources, discuss conflicting opinions about renewable energy, collect data about woody biomass and public perceptions, and calculate the economic costs of using local wood. To prepare students for making decisions about sustainability, the activities engage students in exploring woody biomass as a local renewable energy option while examining environmental, economic, and social perspectives and potential impacts.

A pilot test of this curriculum in Santa Rosa County found that the activities increase students' knowledge about energy, carbon, and woody biomass. Students enjoyed learning about local energy use. In addition, teachers appreciated the engaging lessons. Based on their suggestions for improvement, the activities have been shortened and more details on activity preparation, assessment, and organization have been provided.

This adaptable and locally relevant unit can supplement science and social studies classes and enable students to investigate a current and potentially controversial issue. The ultimate goal of teaching about sustainability is not easily accomplished in a short unit, but could be the theme for a course on current issues.



This document is FOR270, one of a series of the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, UF/IFAS Extension. Original Publication Date February 2011. Reviewed October 2016. Visit the EDIS website at


Jessica Tomasello Ireland, program coordinator, Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute; Martha C. Monroe, professor; and Annie Oxarart, program coordinator; School of Forest Resources and Conservation, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.