Biodiesel Science Fair Project Wins 1st Place!!!

Here at Utah Biodiesel Supply, we get some really cool emails sometimes and every now and then we get some incredible opportunities to help students explore biodiesel and learn more about this amazing alternative fuel.

Well, a few weeks back we received a really neat email from Kirsten Wolcott, an 11th grade student at Richmond Academy in Richmond, Virginia. Kirsten had chosen to do her science fair on Biodiesel. She was interested in some materials on Biodiesel and, as always, we JUMPED at the chance!

We packed up a box really quick & packed it with all sorts of goodies (bumper stickers, decals, books, samples, a copy of Girl Mark’s great Biodiesel Production book, and a bunch of other goodies we thought would be beneficial) and sent it off in the mail.

Seems we were right on time, as the package arrived in time to be used for Kirsten’s Science Fair Project.

Now, we could end it there & say, “Yipee! We got to help a student out!” but wait, there’s more!

Not only did Kirsten’s Science Project come off as a raging success, but IT WON FIRST PLACE!!!!

How’s THAT for incredibly cool! Needless to say we were THRILLED for her and quickly offered to brag about her & her newfound success here on our blog.

Kirsten was kind enough to send us some pictures of the project and the outline of her project, which we’re presenting below (yeah, we think it’s cool & we wanna brag!). Her project was ingenious but simple in nature and just goes to show how versatile Biodiesel really can be!

So, without further adeau, we now present for your reading pleasure the outline of Kirsten Wolcott’s Blue Ribbon Prize Winning Biodiesel Science Fair Project!

Enjoy! (We sure did!).
Biodiesel Science Fair Project by Kirsten Wolcott
(The one & only FIRST PLACE PRIZE WINNING Kirsten Wolcott we might add)

Can I make homemade biodiesel from a restaurant’s waste oil?

I will be able to make biodiesel by recycling cooking oil that will burn brighter than regular cooking oil (canola).

Once the biodiesel was dry, I burned it and the canola oil each in there own lantern. The lantern with canola oil didn’t burn as bright and had a more orange flame, where as the biodiesel had a bright yellow to white flame and burned very well. My only regret is that I couldn’t test it in an actual small diesel engine to see if it would really work or if it would be more efficient than regular diesel.

My hypothesis was correct. I was able to make the biodiesel and it burned brighter and had a more yellow colored flame than the regular oil. The entire process was not too difficult or expensive. It was recycling old oil that you can get for free. The only things you have to pay for are the chemicals and other materials (refer to material list).

So, think about it, by using renewable resources, such as vegetable oils, we can make this cleaner, more efficient fuel. Maybe one day all our diesel vehicles will run on this fuel that came from the fryer to our fuel tanks.
[Utah Biodiesel Supply Insert—We hope so too!]

So is that cool or what!?

Here’s how she went about doing the project (again, really ingenious!)

The first thing I had to do was go to my local McDonald’s and ask them if I could use a liter of their used oil. They readily accepted and gave me a 32 oz. cup full of fryer oil. Once I got the oil I put it on the magnetic stirrer hotplate and let it heat up for about an hour. I did this to try to drive off any water that could
have been in the oil from the fryer impurities.

Next, I measured out 5 grams of Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) and put it in a plastic glove to keep it from absorbing water from the air. (Water can interfere with the reaction.) I set this aside and measured out 200 ml of methanol.I poured the methanol into a high density polyethylene (HDPE) container. You have to use this type of container otherwise the methanol will eat through whatever you put it in. I added the KOH to the methanol and put it on the vortex mixer until the KOH was completely dissolved.

Then, I put the methanol/KOH mixture and the oil into a beaker and put it on the magnetic stirrer hotplate and let it mix thoroughly for about half an hour. When this was done, I put it into an empty 2 liter soda bottle to settle. I let the mixture settle for about 24 hours. When this time was up, you could see two distinct layers:
a lighter yellowish colored liquid on top and a dark brownish colored liquid settled on the bottom. The lighter layer is the biodiesel and the darker layer is the glycerin by-product.

I needed to separate these two layers, so I took a nail and poked a hole in the soda bottle just above the glycerin layer and allowed the biodiesel to come out of the hole and transferred it into another 2 liter soda bottle. I used duct tape to cover up the hole so I could use the bottle again later in the process.

Once the biodiesel was in the new bottle, I added half a liter of water and shook the bottle as hard as I could. This process is known as washing. After the water and biodiesel were completely mixed and had a milky appearance, I let it settle.
Washing allows the water to dissolve any particles of waste material in the biodiesel. The waste settles on the bottom. You will see a distinct layering process between the dirty water and the biodiesel. Again, you must separate the biodiesel
from the other waste by using the same method as in the above paragraph. I washed the biodiesel three times and each time the water got clearer and more transparent.

After the third washing, I separated the biodiesel from the waste and put it into a glass jar. I put the glass jar in a small pan of water and boiled it until it reached 50 degrees Celsius.

This helps to speed up the drying process. You know the biodiesel is dry and ready to use when it is clear (not colorless but translucent).

Once the biodiesel sat for awhile I put it into a small alcohol burner. I put the canola oil in a homemade lantern that I made out of a glass root beer bottle with a hole in the top and the seam of an old pair of underwear(yes, underwear) as the wick.
Both these burners worked but I believed that for the comparison to be fair both fuels would have to be burned in the same type of burner with the same kind of wick.
So, I bought two small lanterns and filled one with biodiesel and the other with canola oil. I lit both at the same time and saw that the biodiesel burned much better and brighter than the canola oil.

Experiment Materials
1 liter of used oil
2 small lanterns
2- two liter soda bottles
200 ml of methanol
5 glass jars
5 grams of KOH
Canola oil
Duct tape
Electric scales
Magnetic stirrer hotplate and magnetic stirring bar
Measuring beakers for methanol and oil
One HDPE container
Rubber gloves
Small pan
Vortex mixer

Again, we were thrilled to hear about Kirstens success & wish her continued success in all her scientific adventures (hopefully more of which may involve Biodiesel).

Way to go Kirsten!
Graydon Blair
The Rabid Biodiesel Nut

About Utah Biodiesel Supply

Utah Biodiesel Supply is an industry leader in offering innovative ways to empower our customers to produce Biodiesel. From free online instructional videos on how to get started making this great renewable fuel to promotional items to help our customers proclaim their energy independence, Utah Biodiesel Supply has it covered. With the widest selection available of Biodiesel equipment, supplies, and promotional items, you're sure to learn something new about Biodiesel every time you visit.

34 comments on “Biodiesel Science Fair Project Wins 1st Place!!!

  1. Take that, Big Oil!

    What a great project. I am consistently amazed at the ingenuity of young people… checking the potency of bio-diesel by burning it in a lamp? Very clever.

    Makes me ready to recycle all my propane-tank based camping gear and use alcohol and bio-diesel.

  2. this is great, i would like to ask how i am going to cite this project (author, study etc). i might use and modify the method for my research pls let me know so that i wont be sued for plagiarism email me at thank u.

  3. great!
    pls let me know how to cite this study. i might use and modify the method for my reseach on biodiesel from durian seeds. pls let me know how to cite the author and the study so that i wont be sued for plagiarism =). thank you. email me

  4. I am also trying to do a science project about biodiesel. I want to discover which used oil such as vegeatable, canola, etc. will run the best in a diesel motor. Any suggestions, comments, or materials would be greatly appreciated.


  5. ur idea helped me i did biodiesel for a science fair project and i used a lamplight farms brand farmers lantern and i use it as light in my house and it realy works and burns bright and surpriseingly cooler than lamp oil or kerosene

  6. i forgot to mention my faviorite line from a Green Day song “Zeig Hail to the presedent gas man”
    -Bille Joe Armstrong
    obvsusly its carcastic and totally utterly and insubordinantly agenst big oil and
    how do u do titration?

    if u ever see biodiesel in a local store as lamp oil in like ten years BLAME ME ITS NOT MY FAULT IM OUT TO CHANGE THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER

  7. My friend and I found Kristen’s science fair project really interesting and decided to do one influened by hers.
    If you have any way of contacting her please e-mail me at

    Feel free to add any tips/info you may have given her, too.


  8. heres the best way to use it as a lamp fuel

    1 make it

    2 wait until its clear
    (i didnt the first time and it went bad and turned brown and thick)

    3 pour it in your normal lantern

    4 wait for it to wick

    5 light
    (keep wick low or it will burn up)

    6 (optional) sit back and enjoy the french fry smell

  9. i live in fresno ca i need some biodiesel but cant find any close to here will you help me. My science fair project is which biodiesel blend will preform best in cold conditions. is there any way you can help me get biodiesel

  10. to help the guy in CA all u need to do is make it just google kitchen biodiesel and you will be on your way to 1L of biodiesel and then you can advance from the fresh oil method to wvo and you can scail it up go to 3L and start to help in the fight against big oil

  11. Oh how sad! My heart goes out to her family….

    God bless and I hope all goes well as they prepare for the services.

    Graydon Blair
    Utah Biodiesel Supply

  12. This is a great project! The tedious boring ones are the ones that make okay grades… the useful, above-and-beyond projects are the ones that do amazing! Congratulations!

  13. Me and my friend are working on a comparison using biofuels vs. diesel. Can you help? Do I have to buy the biofuel? How can I find suppliers that live in Miami?

  14. I would like to do a project on biodiesle, but how would I get KOH and methanol?
    Thanks for you help, and I’m hoping to do a science project with biodiesle next year.

  15. Hi,
    what a great project. we’d like to do something similar but wondering if you have any alternatives to the magnetic stirrer hotplate? They are very expensive. Can we stir manually for 30 mins? THANK YOU!

  16. thank you for your feedback. I think we’ll shake the crud out of it since we are on a budget. Also, the KOH sells in different strengths. What do you recommend? THANKS!

  17. Hi there! My name is Raheema Adam and I live in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I am in grade 11 and I have a science project due for the 24 March. I was thinking about doing bio-diesel for the project. The only problem is that there has to be variables and there must be quantifiable results. I would like to see what ingredients make the best bio-diesel, but I am unsure of how to measure it. Our teacher said that the results has to be quantified. Could you please help me by sharing some information? Thank you!

    • You could do several things. 1) Use different types of oil and measure the gel points, 2) Vary the amount of methanol and identify what percentage of methanol makes the best (do a 3/27 test to see reactivity), 3) vary the amount of chemical and see how much makes the best biodiesel (again, doing a 3/27 test for full conversion). The gel point experiment is pretty cool to quantify.

      You could also do oils from various restaurants and measure what their titrations are. Higher titrations then could be identified as producing more soap in the biodiesel all things else left equal, then react the oils and see.

      Lots of different ways you can go though.

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