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Liquid Coal

Producing Liquid Fuel from Non-Petroleum Sources

Co Authors:

Joshua D. Hartman
Department of Chemistry
University of California, Riverside

Kelly Theel
Department of Chemistry
University of California, Riverside

Jack F. Eichler
Department of Chemistry
University of California, Riverside


In this problem-based case study, students systematically explore the scientific issues surrounding the application and development of coal-to-liquid fuel technology. An introductory reading from the New York Times highlights the significant impact that federal policy decisions may have on both climate change and national security. Students are then given two primary literature articles that address both scientific and technical considerations surrounding fuel conversion and a set of guiding questions about the articles. Students are asked to identify the major scientific questions related to this topic and then explore how they can find answers to these questions in a chemistry context. The case study is designed to illustrate the direct application of chemical reactions and reaction stoichiometry to a major problem facing society. The case is designed for a first semester/first quarter general chemistry course, and is generally presented after the units on chemical reactions and stoichiometry have been covered.

  • Highlight the relevance of chemistry to current world issues.
  • Apply basic chemical knowledge to complex, multi-faceted problems.
  • Develop the ability to critically analyze primary literature and draw conclusions based on the data and evidence contained therein.
  • Develop the ability to communicate scientific and technical concepts in both written and verbal form.
  • Improve the development of fundamental chemistry skills such as balancing chemical reactions, stoichiometric calculations, and dimensional analysis.
Keywords: Chemical reactions; reaction chemistry; stoichiometry; fossil fuels; coal, liquid fuel; climate change
Topical Area: Policy issues
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Journal Article, Problem-Based Learning
Language: English
Subject Headings: Chemistry (General)  
Date Posted: 12/23/2013
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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My students (10th graders) were invested in the study and showed great initiative in tackling some reading/content that is fairly complex (especially for 10th grade basic chemistry students). I will say that I had to paraphrase a lot of the content and lay the groundwork for the case study with some supplemental instruction (mostly vocab).However, once the students had a clear-enough picture of how energy is being produced in this country and how a combustion reaction looks (and is balanced), then the project took off. Thanks!

Nicholas Stephanus
IDEA Donna College Prep
Donna, TX

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