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Sustainability Lesson Clearinghouse

Creating Biodiesel & Mitigating Waste

Lesson Description:
Safety practices for handling the materials involved in producing biodiesel fuel cannot be overemphasized, especially if students attempt to synthesize biodiesel outside of class.

Learning Objectives:
  • The definition of a renewable fuel.
  • How the substitution of biodiesel fuel for petroleum diesel benefits the environment.
  • How biodiesel fuel is made from waste vegetable oil.
  • How this fuel-making process can be adjusted to utilize waste oils from different sources, and the chemical analyses necessary to determine oil quality.
  • How to assess the finished products from the biodiesel reaction.
  • How issues of waste stream management can be addressed in an environmentally responsible way.

This exercise introduces students to the concept of alternative fuels, and gives them an opportunity to produce their own biodiesel fuel using an analytical approach. The text of the exercise gives students a brief background in the environmental benefits of using biodiesel as a diesel substitute. The lab portion of this exercise demonstrates the basic chemistry involved in making biodiesel from vegetable oils and waste oils.

Many students have heard of biodiesel without realizing that to produce the fuel from waste vegetable oil is a fairly simple process. Seeing the process firsthand, and better yet, going through the steps from oil to fuel, enables the student to grasp the fuel making process. Included in this exercise is some basic oil analysis that is necessary to differentiate between various oils that a biodiesel producer may encounter. This is an easy exercise to set up: it requires primarily basic equipment commonly found in a high school chemistry laboratory. Interest sparked by this exercise may inspire students to become more familiar with the various aspects of renewable energy technologies.
Lesson Type:
  • Experiment
  • Group Work
  • Project

Sustainability Topic:
  • Climate Change
  • Energy
  • Waste Reduction

GEF Program Category:
  • Waste Reduction Challenge
  • Green Energy Challenge
  • I Ride Green

Time Needed:
Two weeks
Standards Addressed:
  • Science as Inquiry Standard A:
    • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data. 
    • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence 
    • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
  • Physical Science Standard B: 
    • Structure and properties of matter - the physical properties of compounds reflect the nature of the interactions among its molecules. Carbon atoms can bond to one another…to form a variety of structures, including synthetic polymers, oils, and the large molecules essential to life. 
    • Chemical reactions – chemical reactions occur all around us, for example in health care, cooking, cosmetics, and automobiles. chemical reactions may release or consume energy. Some reactions such as the burning of fossil fuels release large amounts of energy by losing heat and by emitting light. catalysts, such as metal surfaces, accelerate chemical reactions. 
    • Transfer of energy – energy is a property of many substances and is associated with heat, light, and electricity. Energy is transferred in many ways. 
    • Conservation of energy – everything tends to become less orderly over time. thus, in all energy transfers, the overall effect is that the energy is spread out uniformly. Examples are the transfer of energy from hotter to cooler objects by conduction, radiation, or convection and the warming of our surroundings when we burn fuels. 
  • Science and Technology Standard E: 
    • Identify a problem. 
    • Propose designs and choose between alternative solutions.
    • Implement a proposed solution. 
    • Evaluate the solution and its consequences.

Materials Needed:
  • Chemical resistant gloves, goggles, and lab aprons 
  • New vegetable oil (500 ml)
  • Two samples of waste vegetable oil (about 600 mL or more of each)
  • Sodium Hydroxide (Iye)
  • Methanol
  • Isopropyl alcohol 
  • 0.1% Sodium Hydroxide stock solution for titrations
  • 2 quart mason jars, or HDPE plastic bottles with tight fitting lids
  • Graduated cylinders: 1,000 mL, 100 mL, and 10 mL
  • Pipettes, or burets gradulated to measure 0.1 mL, gradulated eyedroppers, or gradulated plastic syringes
  • Scale accurate to 0.1 grams
  • Hot plates with stirring rods or suitable substitute
  • 1 L beakers for heating oil
  • Beaker tongs for transferring warmed oil to gradulated cylinders
  • Celcius thermometers
  • PH strips accurate in the 8-9 range or phenol red indicator solution 
  • A 250 mL beaker for each group for decanting stock NaOH solution
  • Several small beakers for titration (3-4 per group)
  • Labeling tape and permanent markers 

School or Group:
Contact Email:
Lesson Documents:
application/pdf acts_brown_biofuel_309.pdf
Located in: Science

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