Small Islands Voice Global Forum
Using coconut oil as an engine fuel
We in Puerto Rico (Caribbean) are feeling the same helplessness over the rising cost of gas, writes Maria Font. I for one, have coconut trees in my garden, to the point that discarding the dried coconuts is a nuisance. My mother used to make coconut milk by grinding the coconut and then straining and squeezing it in a piece of cloth. This would produce maybe a cup of milk to use in some dessert, or other type of dish. But how could we get gallons of this oil, and at what price, when here a little bottle of coconut oil (maybe 2 oz.) is sold for hair preparations at almost a dollar? Who would start this type of industry? It is indeed necessary but we do not have the infrastructure and we need this oil now to avert the gas price rise.
Other writers from as far apart as Anguilla in the Caribbean and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean have written in to ask for more information about using coconut oil instead of diesel to power motor vehicles.
Some answers are available on the web: The use of coconut oil in engines is not new. It was used, for example, in the Philippines during the Second World War when diesel was in short supply. Since then the wide availability of diesel throughout the world and difficulties in running engines on coconut oil in cooler weather had virtually ended its use for this purpose. Recently, in Vanuatu and elsewhere, pure coconut oil has been used successfully as an alternative to petroleum in automotive diesel engines and the result is both environmentally friendly and good for the local economy. Coconut oil is extracted in high-pressure presses from copra, the dried flesh of the coconut. The better grades of copra – those that have been dried in a hot-air drier, rather than sun or smoke dried – are best for producing coconut oil for fuel. The main drawback with using coconut fuel oil in engines is that it starts to solidify at a temperature below 22°C. And even in tropical countries, temperatures fall below 22°C on a significant number of nights throughout the year, and sometimes during the day in the cooler season. One remedy is to fit a heat exchanger in the fuel line, which warms up the fuel sufficiently within a minute of starting the engine. Another option is to mix the coconut oil with another fuel, such as diesel or kerosene. More information is available through the following links:
Robert Early of Vanuatu (Pacific) adds some more information: I'm also resident in Vanuatu and I can endorse everything Tony Deamer has said about the extent to which there is a growing acceptance and commitment to the use of ‘Island Fuel’ here in Vanuatu. However, this comes after a very long period of resistance. Some of the resistance was motivated by the consideration that if a local source of fuel is found, then government revenues from tax and duty on imported fuel will decline substantially. Fortunately someone must have been able to demonstrate that this was false economy. Even though these revenues will decline, there are other benefits that occur elsewhere in the economy. A pioneer in the extraction and production of very high quality virgin coconut oil is Dan Etherington of Canberra, Australia, and the technology and process he has developed has now been commercialised and successfully implemented in many locations. This production process is geared towards producing the highest quality oil, and the whole package involves training and assistance with set-up and operation, and also marketing of the final product. The website http://www.kokonutpacific.com.au/ contains full details, plus information about the potential for the use of coconut oil as a substitute for other fuel oils as well as for other uses.
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