Green chemistry in the first year lab: Using biodiesel to teach general chemistry principles

Richard Hartmann, Department of Chemistry, Nazareth College, 4245 East Avenue, Rochester, NY 14618

Power Point Presentation (PDF)

ABSTRACT: The synthesis of fatty acid methyl esters (FAMES) also known as biodiesel presents a unique opportunity for first year chemistry students to study a variety of chemical principles while gaining experience in experimental design. Beginning with the extraction of oils from a variety of foodstuffs students get a “hands on feel” for the importance of intermolecular forces and are able to make connections between what they are learning in lecture and its uses in the real world. During the FAME synthesis students are able see how changes in structure, such as the cleavage of fatty acids from a glycerol backbone, result in two very different materials which separate into two layers as a result of these differences. Measurement of a variety of physical properties (determined by the students) also reveals the effect of structure on intermolecular forces.