Chemistry class in the Diploma Program started off with the question, "What issues or problems in your everyday life are you interested in learning more about?" One student was interested in the energy boost that she gets from her beloved teas, and she developed an experiment which measured the amount of caffeine in different teas by using heat extraction. Another student conducted experiments which looked at the varying levels of protein in different kinds of milk. Emily from Grade 12 was interested in biofuels as a source of alternative energy. She tells us why she chose to study this, and explains how her experiment was conducted below:
"Looking for a career in Environmental Sustainability, I became very interested in the chemistry behind biofuels as they are a rising form of alternative energy. Biofuels have allowed us to depend less on unsustainable fossil fuels as well as reduce the amount of CO2 emissions in our atmosphere. I wanted to learn which type of natural oil from various organic sources contain the most energy and therefore would be the most effective biofuel. In accordance with the statement “think global act local”, I have chosen natural oils that are commonly found and produced in Thailand so that the findings in my experiment can help the nation convert to a sustainable fuel source that is available locally.
In my experiment I am converting 5 types of natural oils including coconut, rice bran, castor, soybean and sunflower oil into biofuels using the transesterification process which will cause the glycerol to separate from the esters (biofuel). This requires a methoxide mixture and a sodium hydroxide catalyst. After separating the mixture, I burned the oils and using a calorimeter, measured the change in temperature of the water. This allowed me to gather data and calculate the amount of energy released by each biofuel. I have concluded that soybean and sunflower oil contains the most energy due to the large number and strength of the bonds. Therefore they could be used an effective biofuel."