Matthew A. Brown, Raymond I. Quintana, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Activity takes about 5 class/lab periods. Additional materials are necessary.Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»
See how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 3 Performance Expectations, 7 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 11 Science and Engineering Practices
7.3 Environmental quality.
4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.
4.3 Fossil and bio fuels contain energy captured from sunlight.
4.7 Different sources of energy have different benefits and drawbacks.
Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
Other materials addressing:
Other materials addressing:
C) Identifying and evaluation alternative solutions and courses of action.
Notes From Our Reviewers
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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy |
- An undergraduate Chemistry background should be sufficient for the teacher to proceed with leading this experience.
- Teachers with less Chemistry experience could lead this experiment after first running through it themselves, and with careful attention to safety precautions.
About the Science
- Well-presented and comprehensive lab. Students make a fuel that is quite safe to handle, and safety precautions are thoroughly addressed.
- Students are given a list of vocab words and a background on biodiesel history, potential benefits, and current global usage facts as it pertains to passenger cars.
- Introduces advanced chemistry topics, such as esterification, and basic topics, such as titration, and applies them to making an actual fuel.
- Biofuels do have environmental impacts, including the release of formaldehyde other aldehydes into the environment when produced and burned. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Issues_relating_to_biofuels#Pollution
- Biofuels can have drawbacks in terms of the energy it takes to produce them. This science is emerging, so educators should find current information about this aspect, if needed.
- This project was written by two DOE ACTS Fellows under the direction of scientists and education programs staff at NREL.
- Comments from expert scientist: Scientifically this resource is very sound and relevant, as 1 billion gallons of biodiesel per year are produced from soybean oil. The resource introduces the concept of biofuels/renewable fuels and 6 exercises are given to illustrate why biofuels are useful and being researched, as well as how to make biodiesel from vegetable oil.
About the Pedagogy
- Students first practice the chemical process to create bio-diesel with new oil, then use a series of tests to determine the correct proportions to work with used oils, providing a well-scaffolded, authentic learning experience.
- Well-written lab activity with cross-curriculum connections to Tech Ed classes a good way to integrate learning about renewable energy into an existing chemistry curriculum.
Technical Details/Ease of Use
- Necessary materials may need to be ordered ahead of time.
- Takes quite a bit of time and effort; in some cases it is a time-intensive activity.
- Although the fuel is not dangerous, the idea of making a fuel in a school may not be well received.
- Biodiesel bottles will need to be left for a week to separate.
Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:
Performance Expectations: 3
HS-ESS3-2: Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.
HS-LS1-5: Use a model to illustrate how photosynthesis transforms light energy into stored chemical energy.
HS-PS1-4: Develop a model to illustrate that the release or absorption of energy from a chemical reaction system depends upon the changes in total bond energy.
Disciplinary Core Ideas: 7
HS-ESS3.A2:All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors.
HS-ESS3.C2:Scientists and engineers can make major contributions by developing technologies that produce less pollution and waste and that preclude ecosystem degradation.
HS-LS1.C3:As matter and energy flow through different organizational levels of living systems, chemical elements are recombined in different ways to form different products.
HS-LS2.B1:Photosynthesis and cellular respiration (including anaerobic processes) provide most of the energy for life processes.
HS-PS1.B1:Chemical processes, their rates, and whether or not energy is stored or released can be understood in terms of the collisions of molecules and the rearrangements of atoms into new molecules, with consequent changes in the sum of all bond energies in the set of molecules that are matched by changes in kinetic energy.
HS-PS1.B3:The fact that atoms are conserved, together with knowledge of the chemical properties of the elements involved, can be used to describe and predict chemical reactions.
HS-PS3.D2:The main way that solar energy is captured and stored on Earth is through the complex chemical process known as photosynthesis.
Cross Cutting Concepts: 6
HS-C1.3:Patterns of performance of designed systems can be analyzed and interpreted to reengineer and improve the system.
HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.
HS-C3.5:Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).
HS-C4.2:When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models.
HS-C5.1:The total amount of energy and matter in closed systems is conserved.
HS-C6.2:The functions and properties of natural and designed objects and systems can be inferred from their overall structure, the way their components are shaped and used, and the molecular substructures of its various materials.
Science and Engineering Practices: 11
HS-P1.6:Ask questions that can be investigated within the scope of the school laboratory, research facilities, or field (e.g., outdoor environment) with available resources and, when appropriate, frame a hypothesis based on a model or theory.
HS-P3.2:Plan and conduct an investigation individually and collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence, and in the design: decide on types, how much, and accuracy of data needed to produce reliable measurements and consider limitations on the precision of the data (e.g., number of trials, cost, risk, time), and refine the design accordingly.
HS-P3.3:Plan and conduct an investigation or test a design solution in a safe and ethical manner including considerations of environmental, social, and personal impacts.
HS-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.
HS-P4.4:Compare and contrast various types of data sets (e.g., self-generated, archival) to examine consistency of measurements and observations.
HS-P5.2:Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations.
HS-P5.3:Apply techniques of algebra and functions to represent and solve scientific and engineering problems.
HS-P5.5:Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.).
HS-P6.2:Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
HS-P7.1:Compare and evaluate competing arguments or design solutions in light of currently accepted explanations, new evidence, limitations (e.g., trade-offs), constraints, and ethical issues
HS-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically).