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IB CHEMISTRY 

Energetics (HL Only) 


IB CHEMISTRY 
Energetics (HL Only) 

Which alcohol is the best fuel?

The aim​ of this investigation was to compare the masses of fuel used to the temperature rise of the
water to determine which fuel is the most efficient. The three fuels tested will be the alcohols
ethanol, propanol and methanol.

Raw Data

Water Maximum Mass of Mass of Change in Volume of


temp. temperature spirit burner spirit burner alcohol water (cm​3​)
before + alcohol + alcohol mass
heating before after (g)
heating (g) heating (g)
Ethanol 21​°C 70​°C 116.167g 115.227 0.940 50cm​3
Propanol 21​°C 88​°C 209.717g 208.241 1.476 50cm​3
Methanol 21​°C 61​°C 104.176 102.571 1.605 50cm​3

Observations

Before ​heating:
- The alcohol was colourless
- The alcohol maintained a constant temperature of 21​°C

During​ heating:
- An alcohol flame of the colour blue
- Sometimes a tinge of yellow can be seen on the edges of the blue flame

After​ heating:
- The alcohol remain colourless

Data processing

Ethanol
Before heating:
Mass of water (m) = volume x density
= 50cm​3 ​x 1g/cm​3
= ​50g

Initial temperature: 21​°C


After heating:
Final temperature: 70°C

Temperature Change ΔT = Final Temperature - Initial Temperature

70​°C ​- 21 ​°C
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= 49​°C

Mass of spirit burner and ethanol = ​115.227 g


Mass of ethanol burnt = 116.167 g - 115.227 g
= 0.94 g

Molar mass of ethanol (C​2​H​6​O) = (2 x 12.011) + (6 x 1.008) + (15.999)


= 46.069 g/mol

Moles of Ethanol burnt = Mass of Ethanol Burnt / Molar Mass of Ethanol


= 0.94 g / 46.069 g/mol
= 0.0204 mol

Specific heat capacity of water (c) = 4.18 J g​-1​ K​-1

Enthalpy change during combustion = mass of water x specific heat capacity x temperature
rise of water

Enthalpy change during combustion (​ΔH)​ ​=​ mcΔT


= 50 g x ​4.18 J g​-1​ K​-1​ x 49
= 10241 J
= 10.241 kJ

Standard enthalpy of combustion of ethanol ​ΔH​c​


= Enthalpy change during combustion (ΔH) / Number of moles of ethanol
= ​10.241 kJ / 0.0204 mol
= 502 kJ/mol

Number of Carbon atoms in ethanol = 2

From the following experimental data, it can be calculated that the standard enthalpy of combustion
of ethanol (∆H˚comb) is 502 kJ/mol. Similar procedures are followed to determine the standard
enthalpy of combustion of the rest of the alcohols. The results are put into a table below. Thus, all
the 4 alcohols have been tested for their standard enthalpy of combustions. The overall results are
as shown in the table form below.

Alcohol Number of carbon molecules Standard enthalpy combustion


(ΔH​c​ )​
(kJ/mol)

Methanol (​CH​3​OH) 1 -167

Ethanol (​C​2​H​6​O) 2 - 502

Propanol (​C​3​H​8​O) 3 -572


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Error propagation

Ethanol:
Uncertainty in the mass balance = ±0.001 g
Mass of ethanol burnt = 0.94 g ± 0.002g (calculated twice and uncertainties are always added)
Percentage Uncertainty = ±0.002g / 0.94g x 100% = ​0.21%

Uncertainty in the thermometer = 0. 5˚C


Temperature Difference = 49˚C ± 1˚C
Percentage Uncertainty = 1˚C/49˚C x 100% = ​2.04%

Uncertainty in the measuring cylinder = ±0.5 cm​3


Volume of Water taken = 50 cm​3
Percentage Uncertainty = 0.5 cm​3 ​/ 50 cm​3​ x 100% =​ 1%

Total uncertainty = sum of percentage uncertainties


= 0.21% + 2.04% + 1%
= 3.25 %

Uncertainty in kJ/mol = 3.25 % of 502 kJ/mol


= ± 16.315 kJ/mol

The​ standard enthalpy of combustion of ethanol​ (with uncertainty) is


-502 kJ/mol ± 16.315 kJ/mol

The following steps can be followed to determine the uncertainties in the data values of the other
two alcohols.

The ​standard enthalpy of combustion of propanol ​(with uncertainty) is -​572 kJ/mol ± 15.044
kJ/mol.

The ​standard enthalpy of combustion of methanol ​(with uncertainty) is​ -167 kJ/mol ± 6.045
kJ/mol.

Therefore, the result of error analysis is as shown below:

Alcohol Standard enthalpy of combustion (ΔH​c​ ​)

Methanol - 167 kJ/mol ± 6.045 kJ/mol

Ethanol - 502 kJ/mol ± 16.315 kJ/mol


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Propanol - ​572 kJ/mol ± 15.044 kJ/mol

Conclusion
In this experiment, our goal was to compare the masses and temperature rise to determine the most
efficient fuel. From the experiment we can observe that the standard enthalpy change of
combustion has a direct link to the number of carbon atoms in an alcohol chain. Hence, propanol
releasing the most energy. As the number of carbon atoms in this alcohol chain increase, the values
of standard enthalpy combustion will also increase. When being burnt, each successive member of
the series contains one more (-CH2-) bond than the other, meaning there will be one extra C-C
bond and two extra C-H bonds to be broken. Therefore, more energy will be required for
combustion, explaining the results I have obtained in the table above.

Error analysis
However, the literature values for the combustion of these three alcohols are given as:

Alcohol kJ/mol​-1

Methanol -720 kJ mol​-1

Ethanol - 1371 kJ mol​-1

Propanol -2021 kJ mol​-1

Compared to the theoretical values, the experimental values are drastically different. As a result of
the large error rate, the error percentage for each alcohol was found.

Ethanol

Standard enthalpy combustion (ΔH​c​ ):
Literature value: -1371 kJ/mol
Experimental value: -502 kJ/mol
Error = 1371 - 502
= 869 kJ/mol (Eliminating negative signs for calculations)
Percentage error = ​(Error / Theoretical value) x 100%
= (869 kJ/mol /1371 kJ/mol) x 100%
= 63.4%

In this manner, the percentage errors for other alcohols were also found and the results are summed
up in the table below:

Alcohol Percentage error (%)

Methanol 76.8%

Propanol 71.7%
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Although my percentage errors were relatively high, ranging from 63-76%, I can prove that
propanol is the best fuel as it produced the highest amount of energy. Despite, not losing the least
mass, according to the literature value, it produces the highest energy by far compared to the other
alcohols, which shows a similar trend to my experimental values. As the lid on top of my copper
beaker did not fit properly, my values were likely affected and inaccurate, so this would be
something I would like change in the future, if I were to do the experiment again.

Evaluation
As high error percentages were obtained, better results could have been yielded. Therefore the
sources and other list of errors have been listed in a table below.

Error / Limitation Systematic / Impact on results Suggested


Random Error modification

It is assumed that all Systematic Temperature change - To minimise


the heat is absorbed may be lower than the heat loss
by the water, but the expected. to the
heat can also be surroundings,
absorbed by the the copper
copper calorimeter or calorimeter
lost to the can be
surroundings. insulated

The lid of the copper Systematic By having a beaker In addition to finding a


calorimeter did not fit. with an open lid, some lid that fits the
of the water will have calorimeter. The hole
likely evaporated off, in place for the
greatly affecting the thermometer, should
results. As there is be reduced, to further
less water to heat up minimise heat loss.
and an open top, heat
is lost at a much
faster rate to the
surroundings.

Incomplete systematic As mentioned before, As a blue flame


combustion of alcohol a yellow flame can indicates complete
sometimes be seen combustion, ensure
during the combustion that a blue flame can
of alcohols. This is the be seen without hints
sign of incomplete of yellow on the
combustion, as a edges. In addition
result carbon when a clean flame is
monoxide will be present,it indicates
formed instead of complete combustion.
carbon dioxide. While incomplete
Therefore, this will combustion will
contribute to low include the formation
standard enthalpy of of soot. To ensure
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combustion values, as there is not soot being
the reaction is not produced, a test tube
complete. can be taken and put
across the flame, if
not soot is formed it
can be assumed
complete combustion
is taking place.