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Bridging the Gap Between Science and Engineering for High School Students through an Innovative Biofuel Research Project

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Sustainability, Diversity, and STEM in Contemporary Energy Education

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.294.1 - 22.294.11



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Paper Authors


Jeffrey R. Seay University of Kentucky

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Assistant Professor of Chemical and Materials Engineering

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Wesley Allen Whipple University of Kentucky

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Linking Undergraduates and High Schools Seniors in Sustainability Education through a  Biofuel Research Project  Jeffrey Seay, Wesley Whipple  and Torey Earle  Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, University of Kentucky, Paducah, Kentucky  Abstract This contribution will outline the details of a project to introduce high school seniors and undergraduate students  to  the  principles  of  sustainability  and  renewable  energy  through  participation  in  a multidisciplinary  outreach  project  to  manufacture  biodiesel  using  waste  vegetable  oil  and  convert  the glycerol side product to marketable specialty chemical products.  The high school seniors participating in the project conduct their research at the Paducah Extended Campus of the University of Kentucky where they work with undergraduate researchers in chemical and mechanical engineering to operate a small scale biodiesel plant and glycerol conversion reactor.   In addition, the students operate a quality control laboratory and conduct research experiments designed to improve the biodiesel manufacturing process and  develop  processes  for  optimizing  the  process  for  utilizing  the  glycerol  side  product.    The  waste vegetable  oil  used  as  the  feed  stock  for  the  biodiesel  plant  comes  from  the  high  school  cafeteria  and local restaurants and the fuel produced will be used to power a heater in a student run greenhouse on the high school campus.   As part of the research experience, the students explore both the economic and environmental impacts of this renewable fuel process. Beyond the technical goals of the research, this project has specific outcomes:    Introducing  the  high  school  and  undergraduate  students  to  the  concept  of  sustainability  and  sustainable process design   Raising  the  student’s  awareness  of  design  engineering  and  introducing  them  to  the  tools  and  methods used by engineers in solving design problems.   The high school student’s knowledge and opinions towards sustainability and environmental issues and their knowledge of the chemical engineering profession will be assessed before and after participation by  use  of  a  survey.    The  purpose  of  the  survey  is  to  gauge  the  changes  in  the  student’s  attitudes  and opinions based on their participation.  The results of this survey as well as the anecdotal reports from the participating students will be presented in this contribution.  Finally, some of the specific challenges involved  in  including  high  school  students  active  research  projects  will  be  addressed.    This  work  is funded  in  part  by  a  People,  Prosperity  and  the  Planet  design  competition  project  grant  from  the  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Seay, J. R., & Whipple, W. A. (2011, June), Bridging the Gap Between Science and Engineering for High School Students through an Innovative Biofuel Research Project Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17575

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