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Motivating Student Learning Using Biofuel-based Activities

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

New Concepts for Alternative and Renewable Energy Courses

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.10.1 - 23.10.12

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Paper Authors


Craig J. Hoff Kettering University

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Dr. Craig J. Hoff is currently Professor and Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Kettering University, in Flint, Michigan, where he teaches in the areas of energy systems and automotive engineering. Dr. Hoff’s research focus is on sustainable mobility technologies.

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Jennifer Aurandt Kettering University

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Matthew R. O'Toole Kettering University

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Gregory W. Davis Kettering University

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Steven Nartker Kettering University

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Developing Student Understanding of the Opportunities and Challenges of Bio-fuelsMeeting the energy needs of the nation and the world is becoming increasingly difficult in the face ofescalating demand and dwindling supply. Developing renewal sources of energy is critical for keepingeconomic engines turning and to allow standards of living to increase. One option is to develop bio-fuelssuch as biodiesel and biogas (or more specifically bio-methane). Bio-fuels can be produced from a widevariety of renewal materials. Developing the technology to produce and utilize bio-fuels is truly amultidisciplinary project, involving chemists to understand the fundamental chemical processes,chemical engineers to efficiently produce the bio-fuel, mechanical engineers to understand the affectsof using bio-fuel in conventional engines, and mathematicians to aide with developing predictivemodels.At XYZ University undergraduate students are developing an understanding of the challenges indeveloping bio-fuel as a renewable source of energy though the undergraduate cooperative educationprogram, undergraduate research opportunities, and through classroom activities. For example in acourse on sustainability students use green chemistry principles to produce bio-diesel in a chemistry laband then test the fuel in a gas turbine in a mechanical engineering lab. As another example,collaboration between a green energy startup company, the city government, and the university isproviding opportunities for undergraduate co-op students and undergraduate research assistants tohelp develop the technology to convert municipal waste into biogas.In the production of biogas, chemistry and chemical engineering students evaluate potential substratesfor implementation in anaerobic digestion. The students complete biological methane potential testing,small scale reactor evaluation, and analytical tests to determine the process parameters for anaerobicdigestion. Current student projects include: the development of an algae bio-refinery, using hospitalpost consumer food waste as a substrate, evaluating soybeans as a substrate, and wetland invasivespecies. In addition, the students are implementing the ADM1 model and working with industry onbiogas separation membranes.More recently, mechanical engineering undergraduate and graduate research assistants have begun tostudy the effects of using bio-methane in automobile engines. One approach was to convert a pickuptruck with a gasoline engine to run on compressed natural gas as a prelude to testing the vehiclerunning on bio-methane. Future work will focus on the effects of biogas on fuel economy andemissions. A parallel study will use a computational approach to understand how to reduce the amountof chemical processing required to prepare bio-methane for use in an automotive engine; and hencereducing the cost of the fuel.Through all of these activities, students are coming to understand the opportunities and challengesassociated with the development of bio-fuels. This paper will describe in more detail the approachesthat were used and the lessons learned.

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