The greenhouse gases occur in small amounts in the Earth's atmosphere, yet they have an important role to play in keeping the Earth’s surface warm and able to sustain life. Since the industrial revolution (about 150 years ago), human activities have led to an increase in the emission of greenhouse gases. An increase in these gases in the atmosphere means the atmosphere allows less heat to escape to space, leading to an increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s surface.

Students could do their own research using the resources highlighted here, or other sources on the internet or elsewhere. Alternatively print out the worksheet, which contains some examples of alternative technologies, and ask the students to discuss the pros and cons of each technology.

You might want to get students to fill in this worksheet for an existing technology first and then try and think of their own ideas. Encourage them to use their imagination!

Background information

Detailed information about some new technologies can be seen in the reports of this meeting " Energy materials to combat climate change" held at the Royal Society in 2009. It investigates energy materials to combat climate change and includes talks on different types of solar cell, fuel cells and other methods of combating climate change. Podcasts of the talks are available to download or you can read the abstracts (summaries) of the talks including research into:

  • Rechargeable batteries for storage of renewable energies
  • Hydrogen fuel cells
  • Nuclear fission
  • Fusion
  • Re-use of CO2

These scientific articles have quite difficult language and concepts and would be best for more able/older students.

The Royal Society document entitled " Towards a Low Carbon Future" also summarises the suggestions of a meeting about what areas of research should be prioritised in the future.

Curriculum links

Data, evidence, theories and explanations 1c. how explanations of many phenomena can be developed using scientific theories, models and ideas
Communication skills 3a. recall, analyse, interpret, apply and question scientific information or ideas
3c. present information, develop an argument and draw a conclusion, using scientific, technical and mathematical language, conventions and symbols and ICT tools.
Applications and implications of science 4b. to consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that raise ethical issues, and about the social, economic and environmental effects of such decisions
4c. how uncertainties in scientific knowledge and scientific ideas change over time and about the role of the scientific community in validating these changes.
Environment, Earth and universe 8a. the effects of human activity on the environment can be assessed using living and non-living indicators
8b. the surface and the atmosphere of the Earth have changed since the Earth's origin and are changing at present


Scottish Curriculum

Science - Curriculum for Excellence level 4

SCN 4-04a. Planet Earth - Energy Sources and sustainability: By contributing to an investigation on different ways of meeting society's energy needs, I can express an informed view on the risks and benefits of different energy sources, including those produced from plants.
SCN 4-04b Through investigation, I can explain the formation and use of fossil fuels and contribute to discussions on the responsible use and conservation of finite resources.
SCN 4-05b Processes of the planet: Through exploring the carbon cycle, I can describe the processes involved in maintaining the balance of gases in the air, considering causes and implications of changes in the balance.
SCN 4-10b. Forces, electricity and waves - Electricity: Using a variety of sources, I have explored the latest developments in chemical cells technology and can evaluate their impact on society
SCN 4-11b. Vibrations and waves: By carrying out a comparison of the properties of parts of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond the visible, I can explain the use of radiation and discuss how this has impacted upon society and our quality of life
SCN 4-20a. Topical Science: I have researched new developments in science and can explain how their current or future applications might impact on modern life.
Chemistry National 4 & 5 Potentially relevant to modules: Nature's Chemistry (N4: fuel, applications of chemistry to everyday life)( N5: application of chemical knowledge to fuelling a modern society), Chemistry in Society (N4: new materials, energy sources) (N5: novel and new materials, including forms of energy generation)
Environmental Science National 4 & 5 Potentially relevant to modules: Sustainability (natural resources and the impact of human activities on them,  sustainability, energy, and waste management. environmental, economic and social impacts, and identifying possible solutions, climate change and pollution). Earth's Resources (resources used in energy production, renewable and non-renewable resources and fuels)
Physics National 4 & 5 Potentially relevant to modules: Energy (sources and uses of heat energy and electrical energy in our society)
Science National 4 Potentially relevant to modules: Fragile Earth (energy resources, benefits and issues and possible solutions, how science is involved in the cause, effect and resolution of environmental issues)




Alternative technologies to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases

We need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases but our lifestyles demand high levels of electricity and other energy uses including transport. The diagram below (taken from this scientific paper published in 2010) shows how our need for energy has increased in the last 200 years. (Orange, renewables; red, nuclear fission; blue, hydro power; grey, natural gas; dark grey, crude oil; black, coal; green, biomass.)

Energy demand


Two major problems with the current methods of using fossil fuels (like oil and coal) are
1) they will run out at some point and
2) the burning of fossil fuels is harming the environment.

Sections 1c and 1d in this article explain this in a bit more detail.

Scientists and engineers are looking at alternative ways to generate the energy that is needed without polluting the atmosphere.

wind turbine_300Activity: What are alternative sources of energy?

Work in a small group and make a list of all the different types of alternative energies that you have heard of. Alternative (sustainable) energies are ones that do not use up natural resources and do not harm the environment. One example is wind turbines that generate electricity from wind. How do these technologies differ from traditional methods of energy generation involving the burning of fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil)?

Look at this worksheet to find out about some different types of alternative energies. This website has lots of information about different types of energy sources - use it to find out about advantages and disadvantages of different energy sources and fill in the worksheet.

Alternative energy sources for the future

• Option 1 - Choose one technology that you think might become more widely used in the future and describe why you think this might be successful.
• Option 2 - Try and invent your own technology that produces no greenhouse gases or as little as possible. Remember to think about the implications of where your technology will be made and how parts for it will be transported for assembly.

Do you think it is possible to create a technology that produces no greenhouse gases at any stage?

Draw or write your ideas on this worksheet.