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Safety practices for handling the materials involved in producing biodiesel fuel cannot be overemphasized, especially if students attempt to synthesize biodiesel outside of class.
Students participating in this activity are expected to learn the following:
- 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.