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  • Jennifer A. Tripp
  • Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • San Francisco State University

Can Waste Oil be Turned into a Fuel? Biodiesel: Preparation and Properties

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The preparation and characterization of biodiesel offers students a practical approach to learning about biofuels. Using either new or waste vegetable oil, students produce biodiesel via a transesterification reaction. After separating biodiesel from glycerol (a byproduct), students compare its viscosity and gelation temperature with that of the oil from which it was prepared. Students can also measure the heat content of the biodiesel with a calorimetry experiment. The questions that accompany the experiment allow students to think more about the physical requirements for liquid fuels, and to assess the advantages and disadvantages of biofuels.

This laboratory exercise is included in the laboratory manual to accompany Chemistry in Context, a college textbook of the American Chemical Society for liberal arts students. Chemistry in Context presents chemical ideas in the context of environmental and societal challenges, allowing students to explore the chemistry behind issues such as air quality, energy, clean water, and food security. Accompanying laboratory experiments provide hands-on practice with basic laboratory techniques and reinforce the principles of green chemistry that are explained in the text. Instructor notes are available for each experiment.

Summary prepared March 2012 by Jennifer A. Tripp at San Francisco State University.


Tripp, J. Can Waste Oil be Turned into a Fuel? Biodiesel: Preparation and Properties, Experiment #11 Chemistry in Context Laboratory Manual seventh edition;, Print Eds.; McGraw-Hill: 2012;

Category Descriptors

Chemistry Concepts
  • Biofuels
  • Esters
  • Esters (Reactivity)
  • Fatty Acids
Laboratory Techniques
  • Calorimetry/Thermochemistry
  • Heating and Cooling Methods
Green Chemistry Principles
  • Prevent Waste
  • Use Renewable Feedstocks
Chemistry Subdiscipline
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Interdisciplinary/Multidisciplinary
  • Organic Chemistry
Target Audience
  • Colleges/Universities
  • Secondary Schools
  • Books