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Biodiesels: Converting Oil into Clean Fuel *

Time Required Long (2-4 weeks)
Prerequisites This science fair project must be performed in a well-ventilated area; a fume hood is recommended. You must also have a teacher who can help you order the necessary chemicals.
Material Availability Specialty items are required. You will need methanol, and either potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. See the Guide to Purchasing Chemicals for more information.
Cost High ($100 - $150)
Safety Minor injury is possible. You must wear safety goggles and gloves when dealing with chemicals. Do not breathe in fumes from the chemicals. Read and follow the suggestions in the Chemistry Safety Guide.
*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.


Most of the energy and fuel that we use in the United States is derived from burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are the remains of plants and animals that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Examples of fossil fuels include coal, petroleum oil, and natural gas. Burning coal releases 21.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide— a greenhouse gas that may be responsible for global warming and climate change—into the air in one year. About half of this amount is absorbed by natural processes on Earth (such as by the oceans), but the rest of it is released into the atmosphere. Automobiles use gasoline, which is a petroleum product, and through combustion, release carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons into the air.

Fossil fuels are a nonrenewable source of energy. Once we have used up the fossil fuels that are present on Earth, we will have to wait millions of years to have access to more. What will happen when our reserves are tapped out? This is a question that has many scientists and citizens concerned. One answer to this question is to develop alternative ways of creating energy, and one such alternative source of energy is biodiesel. Biodiesel is a clean fuel that can be made on-site in villages or in local communities from locally grown resources. Biodiesel can be used in specially converted car engines, or along with conventional gasoline in regular engines.

In this energy science fair project, you will make biodiesel using several different types of oil. You should research different ways of making biodiesel and the best oils to use. The resources listed in the Bibliography, below, will help you get started. How do the properties of the oil affect the biodiesel? Experiment with the temperature at which you mix the components, as well as the time you allow the mixture to settle. Can you design an apparatus to efficiently filter the undesirable byproducts of the reaction? Remember, you'll also need to devise a way to compare the biodiesels you make. This area of science is garnering a lot of attention and research, and you can be a part of the excitement!


Dr. Annaliese Franz and Megan Danielewicz, Department of Chemistry, University of California - Davis

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Science Buddies Staff. "Biodiesels: Converting Oil into Clean Fuel" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Energy_p032.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, October 24). Biodiesels: Converting Oil into Clean Fuel. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Energy_p032.shtml

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Last edit date: 2014-10-24


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