Testing biodiesel feedstocks

Biofuels are fuels that have been created from plants and crops. The most common are Bioethanol or simply Ethanol and Biodiesel. Blended with gasoline, corn ethanol can be used as an alternative fuel for your car. Plant based fuels come from renewable sources, can be grown anywhere and have lower carbon emissions as compared to fossil fuels. Biofuels not only help a struggling economy by providing jobs but also help in reducing greenhouse gases.

These advantages make biofuels a relevant research project for science classes! Kathy Daniels teaches AP Environmental Science, AP Biology, Environmental Science, and Biology for Mississinewa Community Schools. She attended a summer Feed the World workshop where a biofuel lesson was presented. She went through the activity with her students.

Daniels said, “We tested Corn Oil, Canola Oil, Soybean (Vegetable) Oil and Plenish Soybean Oil as biodiesel feedstocks. The Plenish had the highest yield of FAME (fatty acid methyl esters) and the least glycerine. It also had the least white residue when we washed it. The Soy did well as a feed stock too, but had lower yield. The Corn produced the least amount of biodiesel, but what we got was the highest quality. The Canola was awful — out of 6 classes, 4 classes (8 groups) had difficulty with the washing process and there was a thick soapy layer left in all their bottles. The final Canola biodiesel product was mediocre, at best.”

Each kernel of corn contains 3.8% oil and 62% starch, making it perfect grain for ethanol production. Some ethanol plants in the United States are recovering the corn distillers oil (CDO) from the process to produce renewable diesel as well as ethanol. The renewable diesel is often feedstock flexible which allows these facilities to take advantage of the commodity markets to make quality fuels for our use.

Remember, you can find this and other great FREE science lessons on our website! And you can register for upcoming workshops, where you’ll participate in hands-on learning and leave with lessons and supplies!