5 Engaging Ways to Teach Bioenergy Production from Algae

Anjaney Kothari

Humankind’s constant search for renewable sources of energy has yielded some excellent bioenergy alternatives, such as algae-derived biodiesel. Researchers have applied transesterification reactions to produce biodiesel from the oil that algae generate via photosynthesis. But the road from algae to biodiesel is not as straightforward when it comes to teaching students the underlying chemistry. The complexity of the theoretical aspects of biodiesel production comes with the hazards of its practical aspects.

Students, therefore, need some innovative and engaging teaching methods to learn about bioenergy production from algae. These methods should be stimulating enough to teach them the chemistry of biofuel generation. And they should be engaging enough to help the students retain and recall all necessary safety information when in need. Here are five ways to teach algae-derived bioenergy production so students can become competent in it while being safe:

1. Use Interactive Models to Keep Students Engaged

With bioenergy production from algae, a crucial task is to teach how to work with hazardous chemicals to produce biodiesel. In such cases, it is best to let the students work with interactive models before graduating to the real-lab experience. These models keep the students engaged while thoroughly ingraining safety-related information.

For example, Labster’s ‘From Algae to Bioenergy’ virtual lab teaches the students about hazard identification skills. At the same time, the students also learn the theoretical details of the biodiesel production reaction.

2. Make Learning Fun with Games and Activities

Scientific experiments have strict stepwise protocols which can seem tedious to beginners. One erroneous reagent addition, or even a slight difference in incubation temperature can drastically alter the outcome of an experiment. Students might find learning through games and activities a happy distraction from the world of protocols and precision.

3. Infuse Technology into Lessons

While producing bioenergy from algae is a noble pursuit, it is not free from potential chemical safety hazards. The conversion of algal oil into biodiesel requires the use of harmful organic solvents such as methanol and hexane. This means that students need adequate safety training before they can conduct the conversion reaction in the lab. It makes perfect safety sense to first provide chemical safety training through technology-aided methods like simulations and virtual reality.

For example, Labster’s ‘From Algae to Bioenergy’ virtual lab teaches the students safe use of the equipment that facilitates transesterification. Students learn how to use the fume hood as a safety control where the reaction occurs in a hazard-free manner. They also learn to safely use the heated magnetic stirrer which mixes the reagents at a definite temperature.

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4. Inspire Students by Discussing Career Opportunities

In today’s competitive world, perhaps no perk for learning is as inspirational as a lucrative career opportunity. If students realize that learning something complex today can build an entire career in the future, their interest will heighten.

Discuss with your students how they could professionally use the chemistry of converting algal oil into biodiesel. They could become environmental engineers who exert a positive impact on the environment through biodiesel production. They could also choose to be chemists who work on improving the efficiency of the transesterification reaction to produce biodiesel.

5. Connect Topic to Real-World Applications

Students may have little motivation to study ‘transesterification’ unless they know of its utility in relatable real-world applications. Connect the topic to real-world scenarios to motivate your students. When you tell them that transesterification produces biodiesel – perhaps our future go-to fuel – they may respond favourably to the topic. A monotonous lesson could suddenly become exciting.

In Labster’s ‘From Algae to Bioenergy’ virtual lab, students learn about the sustainability and environmental protection of algae. Learning about these real-world issues grounds the students’ perception of biodiesel production in the current reality of the field.

Final thoughts

Converting algal oil to biodiesel is a complex topic to teach because of its many moving parts. The chemistry of the conversion reaction, the ecological logistics of the process, and the safety of the researchers performing the reaction are all different interlinked sections of the topic. Educators must weave these ideas together in an engaging way, and the methods we have discussed here do exactly that.

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