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Unit 4: Fossil Fuel Formation

Pamela J. W. Gore (Perimeter College, Georgia State University)
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These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.

Overview

This unit has a strong foundation in the law of conservation of matter. Students learn the orgin and geologic processes for the formation of different types of fossil fuels and then, using the amount of carbon stored in those resources, calculate amount carbon released into the atmosphere when the fuel is burned.

Science and Engineering Practices

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking: Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations. HS-P5.2:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Energy and Matter: The total amount of energy and matter in closed systems is conserved. HS-C5.1:

Energy and Matter: Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system. HS-C5.2:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Global Climate Change: Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. MS-ESS3.D1:

Natural Resources: All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors. HS-ESS3.A2:

Chemical Reactions: The fact that atoms are conserved, together with knowledge of the chemical properties of the elements involved, can be used to describe and predict chemical reactions. HS-PS1.B3:

Chemical Reactions: Chemical processes, their rates, and whether or not energy is stored or released can be understood in terms of the collisions of molecules and the rearrangements of atoms into new molecules, with consequent changes in the sum of all bond energies in the set of molecules that are matched by changes in kinetic energy. HS-PS1.B1:

  1. This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

    • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
    • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
    • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
    • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
    • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.


This page first made public: Jul 15, 2016

Summary

Students will explore various aspects of fossil fuels by examining the various ranks of coal and the processes by which coal, oil, and natural gas form.

Learning Goals

This unit addresses the grand challenges of energy and resource extraction, along with sustainability and climate change.

  1. Students will distinguish fossil fuels from nuclear and renewable energy sources.
  2. Students will discuss uses of various fossil fuels.
  3. Students will describe the sequence of processes by which coal forms.
  4. Students will describe the sequence of processes by which oil and natural gas form.
  5. Students will be able to relate the formation and use of traditional and non-traditional fossil fuels to the carbon cycle.

Context for Use

This unit is designed for use in an introductory-level college geoscience or environmental science course. It can be adapted for use in online instruction, individual/independent study courses, and large lecture-hall style classes. The exercises are designed to be completed in a 50-minute course structure, but they can be shortened or lengthened based on the level of detail desired for class discussions. This time estimate does not include any out-of-class extensions to the activities. Students and instructors will need copies of handouts, computer, access to the Internet, and a classroom projector.

Description and Teaching Materials


The overall flow of this unit is as follows:

1. Fossil Fuel Formation Activity 1 – Fossil fuels, renewable and non-renewable energy sources: PowerPoint with a think-pair-share activity. For a description of this teaching method, see this informational page on Think-Pair-Share.

2. Fossil Fuel Formation Activity 2 – Compare and Contrast Oil and Coal Resources: Show a short YouTube video on Coal, Oil, and Natural Gas. Students do an activity using slips of paper near the end of the video, comparing oil and coal.

3. Fossil Fuel Formation Activity 3 – Coal ranks and their heating value: PowerPoint covers coal ranks and their heating value.
An option is provided so that this activity can be done in a laboratory classroom if coal specimens are available. Student worksheets are needed. Students will need to use a calculator to complete Part 2.

Option 1 for lecture courses:
A PowerPoint presentation covers the characteristics of various ranks of coal.

Option 2 for laboratory classes:
A hands-on activity identifying types of coal, followed by the comparison of carbon content and heating value.

4. Fossil Fuel Formation Activity 4 – Petroleum and Natural Gas: PowerPoint covers petroleum and natural gas. Students will do the The Origin of Oil activity. Students work individually or in pairs to organize a series of statements about the origin of oil into the correct order. Paper copies and scissors needed (or pre-cut paper strips).

5. Optional Activities and/or Homework: A PowerPoint presentation and worksheet are provided on CO2 Production from Burning Fossil Fuels. This can be done in classes with additional time, or assigned for homework. An optional homework assignment has three parts: (1) Students use an interactive map to locate energy facilities in your state or area (power plants, refineries, pipelines, coal mines, oil and gas wells, etc.); (2) Students research the countries which export oil to the United States; (3) Students research electricity generation from various sources, and CO2 emissions.

______________________________________________________________________________________________
Unit 4

1. Fossil Fuel Formation Activity 1 – Fossil fuels, renewable and non-renewable energy sources. (10 min)

Overview of fossil fuels, renewable and nonrenewable energy resources. A Think-Pair-Share activity (10 min). This PowerPoint presentation covers the basics of fossil fuel formation. There are several short videos and three embedded activities.
Unit 4 PowerPoint (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 3.7MB Aug16 16)

First, the PowerPoint presentation provides an overview of fossil fuels, renewable and nonrenewable energy resources. Students brainstorm to list fossil fuels, then pair up with other students to add to the list. Each group reports back to the class, and the instructor lists the ideas on the board. PowerPoint slide contains a list of fossil fuels. Instructor points out that fossil fuels are non-renewable energy resources. Next, students brainstorm to list renewable energy resources, following a similar format. Finally, nuclear energy is considered. It is not a fossil fuel and is not considered renewable.

Then students consider three pie diagrams with differing percentages of fossil fuels, renewable energy, and nuclear energy, and they are asked to select the diagram that most closely matches the current energy usage in the United States.

No advance preparation needed. Computer, Internet access, and a classroom projector are needed. It will be helpful to have a marker to write student responses on the board.

2. Fossil Fuel Formation Activity 2 – Compare and Contrast Oil and Coal Resources. (15 min)

Show video, Coal, Oil, and Natural Gas (6 min 47 sec).
At 5 minutes and 40 seconds into the video, pause the video and students will do the activity below using slips of paper.
Handout – Students will work in pairs to arrange various statements about oil or coal (or both) and place them on a Venn diagram. You will need to have the slips of paper pre-cut (and held together in sets with paper clips), or provide scissors for students to cut them apart. Students can check their answers with information later in the video.
Compare and contrast oil and coal activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 29kB Aug17 16)
Compare and contrast oil and coal activity - PDF version (Acrobat (PDF) 49kB Aug17 16)

3. Fossil Fuel Formation Activity 3 – Coal ranks and their heating value. (5 min)

The PowerPoint presentation provides an overview of coal formation, the various ranks of coal, carbon content and heating value. Additional information is included in the instructor notes accompanying some slides in the presentation, for example, the slide on Types (or Ranks) of Coal. Review questions are provided.

Option for laboratory classes: (30 min)
A hands-on activity identifying hand specimens of the four major ranks of coal, followed by the comparison of carbon content and heating value. (See handouts below.)

4. Fossil Fuel Formation Activity 4 – Petroleum and Natural Gas. (20 min)

The PowerPoint presentation provides an overview of petroleum (oil) and natural gas and their origin.

Unit 4 PowerPoint (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 3.7MB Aug16 16)

Students will do the Origin of Oil Activity. Students work individually, or in groups of two or three, to organize a series of statements about the origin of oil into the correct order, based on clues in the statements. Students will need paper copies of the activity, cut into strips. The instructor can pre-cut them or provide scissors for the students. The origin of oil starts with planktonic algae in the ocean, and ends at the refinery. Clues within each statement help the student select the correct order.
The answers are covered at the end of the PowerPoint presentation and in the Instructor's Guide. The PowerPoint presentation also covers nontraditional fuels such as tar sands, oil shale, and shale gas. Students can determine where these fossil fuels fit into the sequence. Review questions are provided in the PowerPoint presentation.

Student Worksheet
Fossil Fuel Formation - The Origin of Oil - Student Worksheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 38kB Aug16 16)
Fossil Fuel Formation - The Origin of Oil - Student Worksheet (Acrobat (PDF) 64kB Aug17 16)

Instructor's Guide

Fossil Fuel Formation - The Origin of Oil - Instructor's Guide


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Fossil Fuel Formation - The Origin of Oil - Instructor's Guide


This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you are a teacher or faculty member and would like access to this file please enter your email address to be verified as belonging to an educator.

A 3-minute video summarizing what the students learned by doing the activity with arranging the cut paper strips can be shown after the activity has been completed, if sufficient time is available. Oil and Gas Formation video (3:04) from EarthScience Western Australia.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Optional Activities and/or Homework.

1. Coal Specimen Identification Activity (30 min)

A hands-on coal identification activity is provided for laboratory classes where specimens of peat, lignite, bituminous coal and anthracite coal are available. Specimens of these four types of coal are needed for each group of approximately four students. A worksheet guides students through an activity in which they identify the various types of coal, based on coal photos and descriptions in the PowerPoint presentation, and then calculate the weight of coal necessary to produce a standard amount of heat. Students use a calculator to complete this activity.

Student worksheet
Coal Ranks and Their Heating Value - Student Worksheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 121kB Aug17 16)
Coal Ranks and Their Heating Value - Student Worksheet (Acrobat (PDF) 161kB Aug17 16)

Instructor's Guide

Coal Ranks and Their Heating Value - Instructor's Guide


This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you are a teacher or faculty member and would like access to this file please enter your email address to be verified as belonging to an educator.


Coal Ranks and Their Heating Value - Instructor's Guide


This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you are a teacher or faculty member and would like access to this file please enter your email address to be verified as belonging to an educator.

2. PowerPoint Presentation: CO2 Production from Burning Fossil Fuels. (10 min)

The PowerPoint presentation provides an overview of CO2 production from burning fossil fuels. Making a connection to economics, a pie diagram shows U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector, including electricity generation, transportation, industry, commercial and residential use, and agriculture. Sources of carbon dioxide are presented, along with other byproducts of coal burning. Students examine a table of various fossil fuels and the weight of CO2 emitted per million BTU of energy produced, and identify the fuels with the highest and lowest CO2 emissions. Students examine U.S. energy consumption by major fuel type and learn that burning of petroleum products is the largest contributor to CO2 emissions. Although coal accounts for only about 19% of energy used, it accounts for 32% of CO2 emissions. Students examine the reasons for the decrease in the use of coal in the United States, and the increase in the use of natural gas. We are shifting away from burning coal because of environmental regulations, and increasing use of natural gas due to decreasing prices and increased production through fracking.

CO2 production from burning fossil fuels (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 484kB Aug16 16)

3. Calculations of CO2 Production from Burning Fossil Fuels. (10 min)

Using authentic data, students calculate the amount of CO2 released when a certain quantity of coal is burned, and compare the amount of CO2 produced by burning different fossil fuels. Students examine data relating the increasing atmospheric concentration of CO2 in ppm to quantity of CO2 added to the atmosphere over a certain period of time, and see the role of carbon sinks.

Student worksheet
CO2 Production from Burning Fossil Fuels - Student Worksheet (Microsoft Word 74kB Aug17 16)
CO2 Production from Burning Fossil Fuels - Student Worksheet (Acrobat (PDF) 99kB Aug17 16)

Instructor's Guide
CO2 Production from Burning Fossil Fuels - Instructor's Guide (Microsoft Word 76kB Aug17 16)

CO2 Production from Burning Fossil Fuels - Instructor's Guide - PDF version


This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you are a teacher or faculty member and would like access to this file please enter your email address to be verified as belonging to an educator.

Optional Homework. (30 min)

This is a three-part activity using online resources and a worksheet. These activities address economic, social, and environmental issues, and incorporate geography.
Part 1. This activity uses an interactive map to locate energy facilities in your state or area (power plants, refineries, pipelines, coal mines, oil and gas wells, etc.), and to locate fossil fuel resources across the nation. The instructor can project the maps in class, or assign this as classwork or homework.
Part 2. Students read a spreadsheet to research from which countries various oil companies import their petroleum, and through which port cities oil enters the United States.
Part 3. Students research sources of U.S. electricity generation (coal, natural gas, petroleum, nuclear, renewables of various types). Some calculations are required.

Fossil Fuel Formation- online homework - student worksheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 76kB Aug17 16)
Fossil Fuel Formation- online homework - student worksheet (Acrobat (PDF) 123kB Aug17 16)

Fossil Fuel Formation- online homework - instructor's guide


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Fossil Fuel Formation- online homework - instructor's guide


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Teaching Notes and Tips

Emphasis should be placed on the types and formation of various fossil fuels, and connections to the grand challenges facing society (energy resource issues, and carbon dioxide emissions – a greenhouse gas associated with climate change). Interdisciplinary issues in this unit (and the optional homework) include economic issues (production and consumption of natural resources, generation of electricity, imports and exports), and geographic aspects of fossil fuels, explored through interactive and static maps.

Students will see several videos. The video on Coal, Oil and Natural Gas includes an opportunity to compare and contrast oil and coal resources. The instructor will need to have printouts for each group of students. Students will need paper copies of the activity, cut into strips. The instructor can pre-cut them or provide scissors for the students. The students should perform the activity at the specified slide.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas portion of the PowerPoint includes an opportunity for students to do the "Origin of Oil" activity part way through. The instructor will need to have printouts for each group of students. Students will need paper copies of the activity, cut into strips. The instructor can pre-cut them or provide scissors for the students. The students should perform the activity at the specified slide. Subsequent slides at the end of the presentation, and the Instructor's Guide, provide the answers.

If time permits, in longer classes, some of the optional activities can be done by the instructor in front of the classroom. A PowerPoint presentation covers CO2 Production from Burning Fossil Fuels, and is accompanied by a worksheet on which students do calculations. This can be done in classes with additional time, or assigned for homework. An optional online homework assignment deals with the geographic locations of energy facilities and fossil fuel resources. The geographic component can be used to make the student more aware of energy generation facilities and fossil fuel resources in the immediate area near campus, within the state or region, or in a student's home state. The instructor can assign a different state to each student or group of students, or have all students examine the energy facilities and resources in the same state.

Assessment

Formative assessment:
The activities in this unit can be used formatively, so students can develop their understanding, ask questions, and learn by trial in class with their peers. There are several formative assessments in this unit that are ungraded ("Engagement activity – Fossil fuels, renewable and non-renewable energy sources", "Compare and Contrast Oil and Coal Resources," and "The Origin of Oil" activity). There are also optional activities which can be either graded or ungraded, at the instructor's option. These include the "Coal Ranks" activity and Optional Homework).

Summative assessment:
The summative assessment for Unit 4 consists of 14 multiple-choice questions and 9 short-answer questions that require higher-order thinking skills.

Unit 4 Assessment


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Unit 4 Assessment


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Unit 4 Assessment Answer Key


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Unit 4 Assessment Answer Key


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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »