Food for Fuel

I created biodiesel using renewable resources (different types of cooking oils: sunflower, canola and corn) through the process of transesterification. I then burned the biodiesel and measured the efficiency and effectiveness of each one against certain
Maddison Graham
Grade 6



Can I make homemade biodiesel from different types of cooking oils? 


Yes, I will be able to make homemade biodiesel from different types of cooking oils.  I will test the homemade biodiesel in kerosene lamps and evaluate which biodiesel is the most efficient and effective. 


Energy is a necessary part of our daily lives!

We use energy to heat and cool our homes, schools and businesses.  We use energy for lights, appliances and even our vehicles.  About 90% of that energy comes from burning fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels include oil, coal, and natural gas.  Since the late 1700s people have been using fossil fuels at a faster rate than ever before. (  But the planet’s supply of  fossil fuels is limited because fossil fuels are non-renewable resources.  The use of fossil fuels harms the environment as well.  When oil and coal burn, they release harmful gases. These gases react with moisture to create acid rain, a dangerous form of pollution. Burning fossil fuels also increases the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere.  The global average surface temperature rose 0.6 to 0.9 degrees Celsius between 1906 and 2005. (  This warming, called the greenhouse effect, is harmful to living things.


This is why we need to develop new ways to make power without using fossil fuels. 


1.  What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a renewable, biodegradable alternative fuel.  

2. Why is biodiesel important?

Biodiesel is important because it is a cleaner-burning replacement for petroleum-based diesel fuel and it produces less toxic pollutants and greenhouse gases than petroleum diesel.  Compared to diesel, biodiesel has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 80% on a lifecycle basis.

3.   How is biodiesel made?

Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification.  Transesterification is a reaction between the animal fat or oil with an alcohol (methanol) and a catalyst (lye).  A catalyst increases the rate of the chemical reaction.  The process leaves behind two products - methyl esters which is the chemical name for biodiesel and glycerin which is used in a variety of products, including soap and makeup.  

4.   What are renewable resources?

Renewable resources are made of natural resources that can be replenished, generation after generation. Wood-based products are renewable because trees “grow back” when forests are managed, and more trees are grown and replanted. 

5.  What are non-renewable resources?

Non-renewable resources are resources that have limited supply.  There are four major types of non-renewable resources:

a.  Oil

b.  Natural Gas

c.  Coal

d.  Nuclear Energy 

 Oil, natural gas and coal are called fossil fuels.



Manipulated Variable

The different types of oil used for the experiment:

  • Canola oil 
  • Corn oil
  • Sunflower oil

Constant Variables 

  • The amount of oil  
  • The amount of methanol 
  • The amount of lye 
  • The amount of time I blended each mixture - 30 minutes
  • The amount of time I let each mixture sit - 24 hours
  • The type of container I stored each mixture in

Responding Variables

  • Flame height 
  • Flame colour 
  • Flame presence 
  • Flammability 
  • The amount of smoke
  • How much wick was leftover
  • Price 


  1. Measure out 200 milliliters of methanol in a glass beaker  
  2. Carefully pour the methanol into a glass pitcher and place it on the blender 
  3. Weigh out 3.5 grams of lye crystals using my food scale
  4. Turn the blender on slow speed and slowly add the lye crystals to the methanol.  This mixture is called sodium methoxide.
  5. After the lye crystals completely dissolved in the methanol (about 2 minutes) I added 1 liter of Canola oil to the blender.  I blended this mixture on low speed for 30 minutes.
  6. Once the 30 minutes was complete I poured the mixture into a labelled mason jar.
  7. After approximately 60 minutes I made my first observation.  I observed the mixture starting to separate.  There was a dark layer settling at the bottom of the mason jar which is glycerin and a lighter layer on top which is biodiesel. 
  8. To make sure that the mixture was completely settled/separated I waited another 24 hours. 
  9. In order to test the biodiesel, after 24 hours I carefully extracted 200 milliliters from each mason jar and placed it into a lantern.  Then I evaluated each biodiesel for certain criteria.  (see table 1.0)
  10. I repeated steps 1-8 two more times for the Corn oil and Sunflower oil.


Procedures with pictures 




Table 1.0  -  I started with 9 cm of wick and 200 ml of biodiesel in each lantern

Type of oil 


Length of wick at 30 minutes (cm)

Length of wick at 60 minutes (cm) 

Amount of biodiesel after 60 minutes (ml)

Flame Colour 


The amount of smoke/colour of smoke



(for a 1.42L bottle/Western Family brand from Save-On)




174 ml 



Canola oil had the most smoke and it was grey and black 

Fish odor 

$4.99 for 1.42L




157 ml 



Corn oil had less smoke than Canola oil and the smoke was white

Burnt odor 

$4.99 for 1.42L 




188 ml



Sunflower oil had no smoke 


$4.99 for 1.42 L


I decided to do my science fair project on biodiesel because I wanted to see if I could actually make biodiesel out of renewable resources that I had sitting in my kitchen.  As our non-renewable resources continue to deplete it’s important that we continue to be creative and find alternative forms of energy. At first I wasn't sure if I would actually be able to make it, but after I mixed all of the materials together and watched the glycerin and biodiesel start separating out-I knew I had done it.  The next step was to actually test the biodiesel in my kerosene lamps.  The fact that all of the oils burned at a different pace, had a different smell and a different look was so cool.  I could actually compare the three biodiesels against criteria to determine how effective each one was.   

Why is Biodiesel important?

Why did I use cooking oils? What are the benefits?

  • Canada is a major supplier of vegetable based oils so if we convert more of our crops to Biodiesel that will benefit not only Canada, but the entire world.
  • The reason I used cooking oils was because most restaurants use them and it becomes a waste product so I wanted to see if they could be converted into biodiesel.



Concluding my presentation, my hypothesis was correct.  I was able to make homemade biodiesel with renewable resources.  If I were to pick a biodiesel to put in my car I would choose the sunflower oil because it has no thick, dark smoke, it’s odorless and the lamp consumed the least amount of oil (or the oil lasted the longest). However, I recommend using the cheapest and most readily available oil as my experiment proved that all of the renewable resources can be converted into biodiesel.

If I were to do this experiment again I would test the biodiesel in an actual diesel engine to determine if the biodiesel is more efficient than regular diesel. 



Biodiesel has a wide range of applications including all combustion engines.  A combustion engine is an engine where the burning of fuel occurs.  That's why biodiesel is an alternative to petroleum.  

  • Automobiles
  • Ships
  • Construction sites
  • Drilling rigs
  • Portable lighting systems

Sources Of Error

Instrumental:  An instrumental error may have occurred when I was weighing out the lye using my food scale. I had to reset the scale to zero each time but I did notice that the scale would shift between 0 and 0.1grams.

Environmental:  An environmental error may have occurred when I was burning each biodiesel in the kerosene lantern because it was windy outside and the wind may have affected the way the biodiesel burned and the flame height. 

Human:  A human error may have occurred when I was reading the tape measure to measure the height of the flame or the length of the wick.


This experiment was so much fun to do and I couldnt have done it without the support of my Mom and Dad and my teacher Mrs. Macpherson!  Thank you guys so much.