Eugene Wagner (University of Pittsburgh, USA), Maura Koehle (University of Connecticut, USA), Todd Moyle (University of Pittsburgh, USA)
Instability in oil reserves and production has led to interest in developing plant-based resources as alternative fuels. The goal of this undergraduate laboratory experiment is to educate students on bio-based alternative fuels that are being developed for automotive applications. In the experiment, E85 and biodiesel are made as well as an experimental fuel blend of waste vegetable oil and petroleum products referred to as “VeggieDiesel”. The fuels are evaluated in the lab for energy content and viscosity. The results and literature are used to assess the viability, environmental impact, sustainability and practicality of each fuel. In addition, students theoretically model heat of combustion and viscosity and compare the predicted values to experimental results. Students draw conclusions on which fuel they believe is the best “alternative” and most sustainable. The experiment has been part of our physical chemistry lab course for 4 years and it is easily adaptable for other laboratory courses.