Steamboat 5th graders test biofuel potential of Cheetos |

Steamboat 5th graders test biofuel potential of Cheetos

Soda Creek Elementary School fifth-grade teachers Charlotte Tegtmeyer (left), Carsen Gerstell, Nolan Laird and Kali Ebner (Jessi Sloan is out of view), field questions about their investigation of forms of alternative energy.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Who knew Cheetos, the snack with the picture of a zany cheetah on the package, had potential as a form of alternative energy?

Fifth-graders at Soda Creek Elementary School discovered this fall that Cheetos actually burn quite readily and put off significant heat, suggesting they might have potential as biomass.

Biomass was just one form of alternative energy the students in teachers Heidi Packard’s and Natalie Sattler’s classes tested when Yampatika Youth Program Coordinator Mike Loots visited Soda Creek. Fifth-graders were organized into production groups, and tasked with exploring the potential of hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass, solar and wind energy to contribute to  the region’s energy needs.

“While some students crafted water wheels, experimenting with blade design and in-stream flow, others built solar ovens and tested the most efficient angle at which to array their solar panel to successfully power a small music player,” according to Loots.

Students in the wind energy group designed ideal wind turbine blades, and like the water wheels group,  searched for the most advantageous angle for their blades.

And then, there were the salty snacks.

“Across the lawn of Soda Creek Elementary, a group guided by parent volunteers measured the heat produced in combusting biomass, in this case, Cheetos, which they found to burn surprisingly well, once they had dialed in their ignition methods,” Loots wrote in an email.

The students were required to make presentations on their particular form of energy production and described their pros and cons.

They also fielded questions from their fellow students.

One student put his peers on the spot, wondering out loud, “What would happen to our hot springs if you built a geothermal facility too close?”

Loots also acknowledged that Twentymile Mine, in Routt County, is the state’s most productive coal mining operation and plays a large role in the local economy, employing 270 workers. But added, that the presence of the coal mine doesn’t preclude the production of electricity by alternative methods.

He suggested that Soda Creek Elementary students who participated in the alternative fuel sources exercise, took a step toward future jobs tied to alternative fuels.

“The Colorado Energy Office’s Energy Policy suggests an energy future with a mind to job creation, protecting the environment, streamlining government and encouraging collaboration,” Loots wrote.  “Through innovation and demonstration of the ability to work with others on difficult science, students at Soda Creek Elementary are positioning themselves well to be part of that future.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

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