Scientist Sejal investigates…

Do you remember getting ready for science fairs and exhibitions at school, and the excitement of explaining your work to strangers? Our 10th standard Avasara Leadership Fellow Sejal experienced all this last Wednesday, as a participant at the Inspire Award Plan 2012-2013 Science Exhibition. Sejal was selected to represent her school at this science exhibition, and spent many weeks preparing her project on biodiesel. Here, she talks about her experiences…

As soon as I got to know that I had to represent my school at the exhibition, there were various thoughts floating in my mind. I was reminded of very large models which I had seen in the science exhibition organised the previous year.  I was wondering whether I should prepare a solar powered motor, gas turbine, aerodynamics model, etc. Then, I discussed with my teachers in school as well as ALF, and I got the idea of making biodiesel from my ALF science teacher Tamara.

Some of the important things about biodiesel
Some of the important things about biodiesel

Oil is the lifeblood of the modern world and the combustion engine its indomitable heart. In 2011, oil wells around the world pumped an estimated 87 million barrels out of the Earth. At this rate, how long can we go on pumping fossil fuels without exhausting our supplies? Hence, the search for alternate fuels such as biodiesel which can be produced using plant based oils and hence is a renewable energy source unlike conventional fossil fuels like petrol and diesel.

To make biodiesel, I mixed 20 ml of methanol with 0.35 gm of NaOH, and then added this mixture to 100 ml of vegetable oil. After vigorously shaking this solution for half an hour, it separated into biodiesel and glycerol.

Sejal's home-made biodiesel
Sejal’s home-made biodiesel… note the sooty fingers!

After making the biodiesel I wanted to do lots of things with it!  I made a motor boat to show how biodiesel works just like any other fuel. A 2 feet long copper tube with diameter of 1/8th inch was taken and three loops were made in the centre and the outer ends were kept down so that the same could be dipped in the water. Then a plastic bottle was cut into half and the copper tubing lower ends were pierced through its bottom so that the lower ends go into water and a small bowl containing biodiesel was kept under the loop. On lighting the biodiesel, the boat starts to move!

Sejal's biodiesel-powered motor boatl!
Sejal’s biodiesel-powered motor boat out on the open water!

I also wanted to find out whether waste cooking oil could be used to produce biodiesel. I conducted a survey to find out how much edible oil is wasted in average households after being used for frying. The survey results showed that a significant amount of oil gets wasted and hence if could just tap this waste oil, we could produce a large amount of biodiesel and our dependence on fossil fuel would go down to that extent.

Sejal's exhibition table... not only the best science in the competition, but also the best presentation!  (Tamara added this caption).
Sejal’s exhibition table… not only the best science in the competition, but also the best presentation! (Tamara added this caption).

I also did an experiment on the fuel efficiency of biodiesel, by heating a certain quantity of water using different fuels; petrol, diesel, spirit, kerosene and biodiesel for equal time.  Afterwards I compared the amount of fuel used, temperature of water, smoke, odour, volatility and carbon emissions. Fuel efficiency of each of these fuels was calculated based on this experiment.

Fuel efficiency data
Fuel efficiency data

I found that biodiesel is not as fuel efficient as petrol or diesel, however, it would still be a better option because it is generated using plant based oils and hence would help to keep ecological balance in check.

Biodiesel is a carbon-neutral fuel...
Biodiesel is a carbon-neutral fuel…

On the actual day of the exhibition I was very nervous yet I worked hard. I got very tense seeing the huge models brought by people, but with the support of my parents and Tamara Ma’am I became more confident of my research work and believed in the science of my project.  When people came to ask my questions in the exhibition, I found it quite easy because I was mainly explaining what I had experimented, observed and analysed myself. My confidence considerably increased because of the moral support provided by my teachers and parents.

Sejal at her carefully curated stand
Sejal at her carefully curated stand

Overall, it was a wonderful experience and I learnt a lot from it. It gave me an opportunity to go beyond my school books and explore the magical world of science. I would like to thank my guiding light -Tamara Ma’am for her cooperation and support.


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