Coconut As “Green” Source of Fuel and More!
“A crop with a thousand uses” is how experts described coconut. And you can add as an alternative source of biodiesel to that growing list of uses of coconut. Biodiesel is a fuel extracted from plant oils which can be used in diesel engines without any need for modification.
Coconut methyl ester (CME), the biodiesel extracted from coconut, is considered as “green” since it is environment friendly and can help mitigate global warming. Greenhouse gases produce the so-called “greenhouse effect,” which traps heat near the earth’s surface. Many human activities increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which can result in a gradual increase in the earth’s surface temperature.
Carbon dioxide, the primary green house gas, occurs naturally but excessive quantities of it are released by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil to generate electricity and gasoline for vehicles. Over 8 billion tons of carbon dioxide are released each year by burning fossil fuels.
In a recent media briefing at Los Banos, Laguna, Dr. Rodel D. Lasco, the country coordinator for the World Agroforestry Center, said the mitigation potentials of biodiesel are between 100 to 300 mega-’ tons of carbon dioxide.
The Philippines is the first country to use coconut as source for biodiesel. Studies have shown that for every liter of CME consumed, it generates reduction of three kilograms of carbon dioxide. Furthermore, being a saturated biodiesel, emission of oxides of nitrogen (another greenhouse gas) is substantially reduced.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) said the reduction in fuel consumption as a result of the enactment of the Biofuels Act of 2006 would save the country the P17.3 billion a year spent on imported oil stock. Republic Act 9367 mandates the use of a minimum of 1 percent biodiesel blend within three months of the passage of the law and a minimum of 2 percent blend within two years (May 2009).
In December 2007, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources reported that the use of the mandated 1 percent cocodiesel blend significantly cut down carbon emissions in Metro Manila.
“There has been a drastic 24.2 percent reduction in amount of total suspended particulates and particulate matter in the air in the third quarter of the year.” Raffy Diaz Jr., managing director of the Asian Institute of Petroleum Studies Inc. was quoted as saying.
In Davao City last year, a locally developed motor oil from coconut, dubbed `S-9′, was tapped for international market. “This motor oil is good for tropical countries like the Philippines considering that it reduces the engine temperature significantly,” said Peter Reger, marketing consultant of Chun Hae Food Processor.
In its product primer, the ‘company claimed S-9 could reduce fuel consumption by 45 percent and smoke emission by 95 percent. It also said it could lengthen change oil interval by up to 20,000 kilometers, lessen metal wear in engines, increase power, and reduce engine temperature. The product has reportedly been tested in 400 vehicles since 2005 and has been blended with commercially available motor oils.
There’s more, to coconut than just cocodiesel. “The. amazing thing about the coconut palm is that it provides almost all the necessities of life: food, drink, oil, medicine, fiber, timber, thatch, mats, fuel, and domestic utensils, as well as serving important environmental services such as soil erosion control in coastal regions, wind protection, and shade for other crops,” wrote Craig Elevitch, author of various books on tropical agriculture.
The Philippines is noted for its coconut oil. In fact, the country is the world’s biggest exporter with 1 million tons of coconut oil being exported each year.. Aside from cooking, coconut oil is also used as ingredient for skin care and cosmetics, and many others. It is one of two plant oils commercially produced that contains medium chain triglyceride, a formula ingredient for infant milk powder.
Also world-famous is the virgin coconut oil (VCO), which is sort of a drug “that regulates the body’s functions and defense mechanism.” Likewise, VCO “restores the normal balance of tissues or cells that have become dysfunctional.”
Tuba is coconut toddy, a juice produced from the tapping of the coconut’s spadix (bud of inflorescence). This popular drink can be processed and transformed into sugar and honey. That is what Benjamin R. Lao, the Gawad Saka 2008 national awardee on coconut farming, has discovered.
“These coco products have low glycemic index, a measurement of blood sugar, thus good for diabetics and those having prostate problems,” Lao said. “It has also glumatic acid, the same ingredient present in Viagra.”
Diabetics can al’so benefit from drinking coconut water. The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) informs: “Potassium content of water is remarkably high at all nut ages. Together with sodium and phosphorus, potassium content also tends to increase with the ages of the coconut to peak at nine months. This characteristic of coconut water makes it a very good drinking water for diabetics. Diabetics waking from a coma recover quickly after drinking coconut water.”
A joint study by the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital and the Department of Science and Technology also found that coconut water from 9-month-old nuts could be safely injected into a healthy person. But here’s a warning: Patients with weak kidneys may not be able to tolerate high doses of fluid due to its high potassium content. This can lead to heart attack!
Coconut milk, which is made from water and grated coconut meat extract, is indispensable in some Filipino food preparations. But unknown to many, electricity can be produced from coconut milk. Plants of the Philippines, published by the University of the Philippines Press, gives this information: “Bacteria implanted in the coconut milk break it down to a simpler form thus producing electricity: this mechanism is called biochemical fuel cell. The fuel cell can convert chemical energy to electrical energy by the oxidation of the fuel directly. The fuel cell and the oxidant are supplied to the cell continuously during the operation by fermentation process.”
Ever heard of cocogro? Well, it is a biofertilizer made from coconut that helps crops to yield more. Dr. Lorele Trinidad said cocogro could replace inorganic fertilizers, reduce carbon emissions, and mitigate the effects of nitrogen and other elements. It is developed by scientists at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of the University of the Philippines Los Banos.
“It’s a crude mixture of growth hormones. There are growth hormones good for rooting, good for shooting, so if you have vegetable seeds, the shooting is good, as well as the germination. If the germination is good, more plants are expected to grow because they already have a headstart,” Dr. Trinidad said, describing the product.
The DA said that at least 3.1 million hectares of the country’s 12 million farmlands are devoted to coconuts alone. At least 25 million Filipinos are directly and indirectly dependent to coconut for livelihood.
“The coconut industry is a pillar of Philippine agriculture,” pointed out Senator Edgardo J. Angara, former secretary of agriculture. “It is the oldest and most strategic industry in the – country, comprising 1.14 percent of our gross domestic product, or as much as US$760 million.”
The Philippines leads the world in coconut production, dominating more than half of the global market. “Coconut itself is the top agricultural export of the Philippines, reaping an annual revenue of US$631.5 million from, exports,” Angara said.
Recently, the PCA has developed a synthetic coconut variety, which offers bigger yields and aromatic juice, along with higher copra content. “It may yet be the salvation of the ancient coconut industry that needs replanting and the cultivation of better varieties,” said the editorial of the bi-monthly BioLife.
The variety, registered with DA’s National Seed Industry Council in 2000, has buko as its major use. It is now planted in the provinces of La Union, Quezon, Batangas, Laguna, Palawan, Negros Occidental, Misamis Oriental, Davao, Basilan, and Zamboanga.
The Philippines is home to various varieties of coconut. So before planting, be sure to know first your primary reason for planting the crop: for copra, tuba (for vinegar or coco sugar), or buko.
Meanwhile, there are still several other uses of coconuts waiting to be discovered and tapped!
By Henrylito D. Tacio