Environmental Research

2017 Topic: Biodiesel


Biodiesel  fuel  is  produced  from  renewable  sources  of  oil and  serves  as  an  alternative  fuel  for  diesel  (compression ignition)  engines.  Supported by a  biodiesel tax incentive,  the U.S. biodiesel industry has grown, helping it become the first EPA-designated Advanced Biofuel to reach commercial-scale production nationwide. Biodiesel  is produced by a transesterification reaction between animal and/or vegetable fats and short-chained alcohols.  The use of biodiesel has several environmental benefits compared to conventional petrodiesel fuel.  



Part 1 -  Conduct literature research to address the following:

  • Define biodiesel and differentiate it from other types of biofuels.  
  • Describe and elaborate on the chemical processes that are used to produce biodiesel.
  • Identify and evaluate the types of feedstocks that are used to make biodiesel.
  • Elaborate on pros and cons of using biodiesel in our automotive industry.  Consider ecological, economical and societal factors.

Part 2 -  Conduct original research

  • Synthesize biodiesel using three different lipid sources.
    • Justify your choice of lipids that you chose to work with and compare.  
    • Identify and report a procedure to synthesize your biofuel.
    • Discuss the stoichiometry involved in the reaction.  Consider how this impacts the upscaling of the process to commercial quantities.
  • Measure and compare the quality of your biofuels by comparing the viscosity against a standard.  (We will use B99 Biofuel blend as our standard. It is available for pick-up.   Contact N. Macke to make arrangements)  Typically the industry measures viscosity using expensive Shell cups, a tool designed specifically for the oil industry. A simple slide-drop method should be used as an acceptable replacement.  [ A drop of oil is placed on a microscope slide which is then elevated ninety degrees to stand vertically on its edge, and the time required for the drop to “run” down the length of the slide is recorded.]
  • Relate the chemistry of your biofuels to the results of your experiment.  
  • Explain how the chemistry of the biofuel impacts the viscosity of the product.

Part 3 - Report of Student Understanding and Research Findings

A research paper that includes information addressing the following and that demonstrates understandings and information from the literature research above. This should include the following:

  • Describe the chemistry involved in the synthesis of biofuels.
  • Make an argument for or against the use of biodiesel in the automotive industry.
  • Discuss the limitations of the process and ultimately the production at the commercial level
  • All reference material should be properly cited and citations should have credibility.

Event Day

Teams will make a short (three minutes) presentation via PowerPoint/ Slides or poster. Presentations will be scheduled for the morning of the Chemistry Olympics. (6 minutes maximum: 3 minute prepared presentation + 3 minutes Q&A) - This presentation should focus solely on the resolution results in Part 2 and should highlight the students' understanding of the the synthesis chemistry of the biofuel and their application of that understanding to their experimental findings. Specific laboratory data collected should be presented to the judges in a graphical/ pictorial manner.  Conclusions from experimentation should be clearly supported by the data provided.



Learn about the requirements concerning Primary Sources, formatting and citations for your research paper: Research Guidelines and Requirements

The Environmental Research Paper must be received by the Director of the NJCO by the deadline indicated in: Requirement Overview.


Written report 40% total

  • Accuracy of technical component(s),
  • Depth of chemistry background,
  • Support of argument for or against biodiesel.  The argument must include evidentiary statements and be grounded in good reasoning.
  • Quality of references and appropriate citations

Experiment and Results 20% total


  • Evidence of good scientific method
  • Development of Procedure
  • Clear experimental procedure
  • Graphical analysis of results

Presentation, 40% total

  • Technical knowledge of subject
  • Presentation quality,
  • Answers to questions