Hands-on Activity: Table Top Transesterification

In biodiesel production, triglycerides are converted into glycerin and biodiesel. In this reinforcement activity created by the Education Division at the North Carolina Zoological Park, students kinesthetically engage in the chemical process (transesterification) of biodiesel production.  For this activity you will need:  pretzel sticks to represent fatty acids; large marshmallows to represent glycerine; small marshmallows to represent methanol.

Procedure:

On a piece of paper or in a defined area to be called the “processor” have students make one or more triglycerides by attaching three pretzel sticks to one large marshmallow (or specific color of M&M).  Introduce methanol (small marshmallows or a different color of M&Ms).  Using their hands as the catalyst, break off the glycerin molecule and attach one methanol “molecule” to each pretzel stick to create a methyl ester.  Move glycerin molecules to the bottom of the processor; methyl esters (biodiesel) should be on top. A visual representation of this chemical reaction  and further information can be found here.

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