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  • Key Stage 3
  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Information retrieval
Topic: Fuels

UK fuel prices have reached all time highs. The EU and US hope biofuels will prevent fuel shortages and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But others point out the downside of biofuels – including losing valuable food production land and biodiversity. In this activity, students learn about biodiesel production and make a game to show the pros and cons this newly-popular fuel.

Published: 13th November 2007
Reviews & Comments: 25

Learning objectives

Students will learn:
• that biodiesel is a renewable fuel made from crops such as oilseed rape and palm oil
• about the benefits and drawbacks of producing and using biodiesel.

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How science works
Applications and implications of science
4a Contemporary scientific and technological developments and their benefits, drawbacks and risks.

GCSE specifications
AQA – Core
Unit C 1b
12.5 Evaluate benefits, drawbacks and risks of using vegetable oils to produce fuels.

Edexcel – Core
Unit C 1b
7.12 Explain why bio-fuels are sometimes an attractive alternative to fossil fuels.

Gateway – Core
Unit C1
Interpret data about fuels in order to choose the best fuel for a particular purpose.

21st Century Science – core
Unit C2
2.4.4 Explain the idea of sustainable development and apply it to specific situations

11-14 (KS3)

From September 2008
1.2a Exploring how the creative application of scientific ideas can bring about technological developments and consequent changes in the way people think and behave.

3.4c Human activity and natural processes can lead to changes in the environment.

Until September 2008
QCA unit 7I Energy resources

Running the activity

Display page 1, which introduces the dilemma. Mention that world biodiesel output quadrupled between 2000 – 2005. The EU says that, by 2010, 5.75% of transport fuels used should be renewable. This would need about 25% of Europe's arable land.

Then display page 2. Point out that there are many different biofuels, including fuels made from waste cooking oil. The diagram shows how just one biofuel – biodiesel – is made from palm oil (hot climates) or oilseed rape oil (cooler climates). Glycerol – the main by-product – has many uses, but is currently almost worthless owing to over-supply.

Ask small groups of students to follow the instructions on page 3 to make a snakes and ladders game of the pros and cons of biodiesel for younger students. They can use the pros and cons listed on page 4, or research further points (see websites below). You may wish to emphasise that there are no easy answers. Many western governments vigorously promote biofuels. But biofuel production is at the expense of

News links

BBC news
is a useful overview and includes a nice carbon cycle to explain the sustainability of biofuels
BBC news
News story about a school that makes – and runs its minibus on – fuel made from waste cooking oil…for 12p a litre!
BBC news
shows the effects of clearing land to grow palm oil for biodiesel on a farmer in Indonesia
How Stuff Works
gives chemical equations for the trans-esterification of plant oils to make biodiesel, and also points out the pros and cons of this fuel.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Mar 27th, 2013

5 Star

Really useful resource and easily differentiable. Got my Y9 class to justify to each other why they had assigned the cards to the "pro" or "con" pile if they disagreed. Makes a dry topic a bit more lively!

Reviewer: Allison Cook


Jan 29th, 2013

5 Star

great stuff

Reviewer: jenny greig


Feb 28th, 2012

5 Star

A fantastic resource which helps students use difficult langage in a fun setting using games and colour to entice them. It is certain to build confidence and improve student marks. Brilliant stuff!

Reviewer: Delia McNally

UPD's website

Jun 25th, 2011

5 Star

The resource has been invaluable in creating our new context based KS3 scheme.
Moya O;Kane
Ellesmere Port Catholic High

Reviewer: Moya O'Kane


Sep 13th, 2010

3 Star

I have 4 year 11 groups (lower ability). £ of the groups loved doing the activity and making the game, and 1 set hated it. Horses for courses? I thought it was easy to present and understand and on the whole a success. You can't please all the people all the time!

Reviewer: Sue Flewitt


Jun 29th, 2010

5 Star

Great activity. used with year 9. they enjoyed and the out come was great. want to use again with the new batch.

Reviewer: Leena Chettri


May 13th, 2010

5 Star

My bottom set year 11 enjoyed this.

Reviewer: Victoria Barnes


Apr 22nd, 2010

5 Star

For my year 10 class - average but with some special needs (i.e. dyslexia) - this was an ideal lesson. It took about an hour with a good discussion on the pros and cons. I summarised these on the board for them. The snakes and ladders game was fun. I made it A3 and they made it in pairs, drawing on their own snakes and ladders. They just had time to play one game.

Reviewer: Jan Lusty


Aug 18th, 2009

5 Star

Useful links to do research on biofuels can be obtained from teachers notes - excellent resource

Reviewer: ivy addo

A Level Chemistry

Jul 17th, 2009

4 Star

Used the snakes and ladders game with my 6th form class. Got them to research the pros and cons of using biodiesel instead of giving them the pre-printed cards. They then made the game and really enjoyed playing it!

Reviewer: Kathryn Little

Biodiesel review

May 14th, 2009

5 Star

An excellent resource that can be adapted to fit all abilities. Differentiation maybe needed for the very able.

Reviewer: jason russell

Biodiesel review

Feb 6th, 2009

4 Star

Ran this with 3 of my year 10 classes at the end of the oils topic. Both lower sets enjoyed making the games and testing them but the higher ability found the game making beneath them. The information was suberb, really got them thinking and they wrote some fantastic essays on the what they thought - most finally deciding it wasn't worth the cost yet, and we should just use less fuel!

Reviewer: Samantha Wallace


Jan 22nd, 2009

5 Star

actively engaged in construction of snakes and ladders activity and promoted good discussion of benefits and drawbacks used on snake or ladder worked really well all abilities matching their level of discussion

Reviewer: colin white


Jul 16th, 2008

5 Star

This was a very interesting activity for the whole class. It was challenging and really motivating too.

Reviewer: Caroline Ene

poo power

Jul 3rd, 2008

5 Star

used it in a Y8 lesson on altrenative energy

Reviewer: Mark Fodder


Jul 3rd, 2008

3 Star

Year 10 enjoyed making the snakes and ladders game and good discussion when deciding pro's and con's

Reviewer: Emma Patterson

oils earth and atmophere AQA

Jun 28th, 2008

3 Star

My year 10s could not be enticed to use the snakes and ladders game but the pros and cons cards were a very useful starting point for discussions about the merits of biodiesel

Reviewer: jean Pitchers


May 21st, 2008

4 Star

worked really well with my year 7 classes. i enlarged the snakes and ladders to A3 size. it was interesting listening to the students trying to decide what was a pro or con - some quite heated debates!

philippa adcroft

Reviewer: Philippa Adcroft


May 18th, 2008

4 Star

Positive feedback from the students. They enjoyed the activities and its relavance. There was some confusion with Snakes and Ladders.

Reviewer: William Green


May 1st, 2008

4 Star

Used it with my Y10. Excellent introductory activity. It raises important issues that I'm not sure even all teachers have considered. i.e. plenty of biodeisel - where is the food grown? Not sure about the snakes and ladders.

Reviewer: Michael Barton


Apr 3rd, 2008

5 Star

This looks good to use (different bits for different years) for year 7 when they study energy from biomass; Year 10 when they study triglycerides and biofuels and even my 6th form Chemistry class might have a quick peek!

Reviewer: elizabeth burak

Biodiesel - snakes & ladders

Feb 28th, 2008

4 Star

Great activity for getting Y10 aware of biofuel pro's and cons. I'll use it again.

Reviewer: Stephen Clark

Biodiesel review

Nov 17th, 2007

5 Star

This should be really good and accessible for 11 year olds doing KS3 7I Energy Resources...BUT... I think your page layout designers missed a trick here, why aren't the consequences both good and bad available in the right size frames to cut and stick onto the snakes and ladders master grid? If there was a ready sized version of the different consequences it would be much easier for students to place their snakes and ladders with the appropriate comments. I know I can probably do the size changing myself - but when everything has been thought out carefully it seemed an obvious thing to do. We'll still be doing this next week and having fun.

Reviewer: Elizabeth Lockwood


Nov 17th, 2007

4 Star

thanks for an activity which is creative, relevant & fun to do, I plan to use this with year 10 & yr 7 next week.

Reviewer: jacqueline swift


Nov 16th, 2007

4 Star

Very creative and current, will be able to use when I start my lessons on energy. The linking of the pros and cons to snake and ladder game will definetely generate interest.

Reviewer: kwamina

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