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Published on January 7th, 2009 | by Andrew Williams

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US Scientists Make Car Parts and Biodiesel From Coconuts

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A team of researchers at Baylor University, Texas, have figured out a way to make car parts from coconuts, opening the door to the replacement of environmentally damaging plastic with an abundant, renewable resource.

The team have also created biodiesel from coconut oil, and are confident the new fuel could be an economically viable substitute for gasoline, as well as a vital source of income for more than ten million coconut farmers worldwide struggling on tiny annual incomes, typically as little as $500.

So far, the researchers have constructed prototype versions of floorboards, trunk-liners and car-door interiors from coconut husks, which are normally burned or thrown away as a waste product.

According to project leader, Prof. Walter Bradley, “We are trying to turn trash into cash to help poor coconut farmers. The fiber has very good strength, stiffness and ductility, and potentially can be used for all kinds of things.”

Image Credit – Swami Stream via flickr.com on a Creative Commons license



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About the Author

is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.



  • Steve

    Enough already! Why is it newsworthy that a cooking oil producing plant can be used for bio-fuel or plastic? Guess what basically EVERY OIL PRODUCING PLANT’S OIL CAN BE MADE INTO BIO-FUEL! There, we got that newsworthy piece of information to the readers.

    What would be interesting, however, is whether this bio-fuel might be ECONOMICAL to produce. Because if it isn’t then there is no chance they are helping to poor coconut farmers and then this type of article is not just not newsworthy, it is deceptive to the less informed. The questions like “How much oil per acre per year can be produced?” and “What are the costs per gallon/liter/etc. of production of this source?” are the interesting questions (lacking) that would be nice to see.

    Somehow, I basically doubt that a cooking oil can be effectively used as bio-diesel competitively against something like algae which would have a much higher “oil per acre per year”.

  • Steve

    Enough already! Why is it newsworthy that a cooking oil producing plant can be used for bio-fuel or plastic? Guess what basically EVERY OIL PRODUCING PLANT’S OIL CAN BE MADE INTO BIO-FUEL! There, we got that newsworthy piece of information to the readers.

    What would be interesting, however, is whether this bio-fuel might be ECONOMICAL to produce. Because if it isn’t then there is no chance they are helping to poor coconut farmers and then this type of article is not just not newsworthy, it is deceptive to the less informed. The questions like “How much oil per acre per year can be produced?” and “What are the costs per gallon/liter/etc. of production of this source?” are the interesting questions (lacking) that would be nice to see.

    Somehow, I basically doubt that a cooking oil can be effectively used as bio-diesel competitively against something like algae which would have a much higher “oil per acre per year”.

  • http://www.greenbusinessafrica.com Sam Ooko

    @Steve,well said.

    Biofuels are suddenly gaining even more currency and their fair share of publicity. Jatropha, coffee, sugarcane, corn and now coconuts.

    Biofuel producers must be made to adhere to very stringent sustainability values and policies that protect the poor farmer in Africa, Asia or Latin America from whose land the stock will come from.

    These’s a notion that jatropha is grown mainly in none-food ASAL lands; won’t it be more sustainable if the ASALs were made arable to increase much needed food yields in those tropical regions? Does the much touted Africa’s Green Revolution take stock of biofuels?

  • http://www.greenbusinessafrica.com Sam Ooko

    @Steve,well said.

    Biofuels are suddenly gaining even more currency and their fair share of publicity. Jatropha, coffee, sugarcane, corn and now coconuts.

    Biofuel producers must be made to adhere to very stringent sustainability values and policies that protect the poor farmer in Africa, Asia or Latin America from whose land the stock will come from.

    These’s a notion that jatropha is grown mainly in none-food ASAL lands; won’t it be more sustainable if the ASALs were made arable to increase much needed food yields in those tropical regions? Does the much touted Africa’s Green Revolution take stock of biofuels?

  • Aaron

    Uh. The fibers are used to make the composite that turns into parts. Not the oil. You guys didn’t even read the article?

  • Aaron

    Uh. The fibers are used to make the composite that turns into parts. Not the oil. You guys didn’t even read the article?

  • Ian

    I also agree with Steve’s point, but would like to add that in Central America, African Palms (the ones used for harvesting palm oil) are exotic invasives, displacing the coconut palm (which is a staple food producer and is also under increased pressure from the muerte amarillo blight). In addition, harvesting and processing of the oil sends rivers of oily pollution downstream and into the estuaries that coastal residents rely on for food.

    Palm oil for fuel may be able to help some people get out of poverty but it is no golden ticket and if not done responsibly, is environmentally destructive.

  • Ian

    I also agree with Steve’s point, but would like to add that in Central America, African Palms (the ones used for harvesting palm oil) are exotic invasives, displacing the coconut palm (which is a staple food producer and is also under increased pressure from the muerte amarillo blight). In addition, harvesting and processing of the oil sends rivers of oily pollution downstream and into the estuaries that coastal residents rely on for food.

    Palm oil for fuel may be able to help some people get out of poverty but it is no golden ticket and if not done responsibly, is environmentally destructive.

  • CNCMike

    I suggest reading the article. This is not an article about a cooking oil plant making a product that can be converted to biodiesel. Coconut oil is so high in saturated fat that the best thing you could do with it IS make biodiesel. I particularly like the fact that the husks, something that is usually thrown away or burned is being put to good use making car parts. They should use this in combination with soy and hemp and make car bodies like Henry Ford made many years ago. Then we could stop using all that imported steel for car bodies.

  • CNCMike

    I suggest reading the article. This is not an article about a cooking oil plant making a product that can be converted to biodiesel. Coconut oil is so high in saturated fat that the best thing you could do with it IS make biodiesel. I particularly like the fact that the husks, something that is usually thrown away or burned is being put to good use making car parts. They should use this in combination with soy and hemp and make car bodies like Henry Ford made many years ago. Then we could stop using all that imported steel for car bodies.

  • TheGrinch

    Is this not the same palm oil product whos development is wrecking every rainforest on Earth? Are coconut farmers low income due to other factors such as exploitative trade practices and middlemen?

  • TheGrinch

    Is this not the same palm oil product whos development is wrecking every rainforest on Earth? Are coconut farmers low income due to other factors such as exploitative trade practices and middlemen?

  • DaveyP

    So the Professor on Gilligan’s Island was correct!

  • DaveyP

    So the Professor on Gilligan’s Island was correct!

  • Jo Borras

    @ CNCMike: Ford (and GM) still use soy-based foams in many of their interior components – and I agree 100% that using materials like these coconut husks is a great move away from petroleum-based and toxic plastics.

  • LonnieB

    It seems to me that anything bio-friendly that can replace petroleum in ANY manufacturing or fuel-deriving process is a good thing. Especially if it means injecting income into economically depressed, or backward countries.

    Nothing was mentioned about WHERE and/or HOW the processing would be done.

    Building new coconut processing plants would increase employment and allow for stricter, more centralized environmental impact monitoring.

    Why is it that whenever something like this comes along, more energy is spent finding faults and negatives than exploring possibilities and possitives?

    It was a lack of imagination that got us to this point to begin with.

  • LonnieB

    It seems to me that anything bio-friendly that can replace petroleum in ANY manufacturing or fuel-deriving process is a good thing. Especially if it means injecting income into economically depressed, or backward countries.

    Nothing was mentioned about WHERE and/or HOW the processing would be done.

    Building new coconut processing plants would increase employment and allow for stricter, more centralized environmental impact monitoring.

    Why is it that whenever something like this comes along, more energy is spent finding faults and negatives than exploring possibilities and possitives?

    It was a lack of imagination that got us to this point to begin with.

  • TheGrinch

    @LonnieB … “economically depressed, or backward countries” – you talking about the US of A?

  • TheGrinch

    @LonnieB … “economically depressed, or backward countries” – you talking about the US of A?

  • TheGrinch

    Hemp is a better product anyways for both fuel and materials, it smokes most other biofuel sources!

    Take note, most of the new money for third-world economies never makes it to the grassroots worker/farmer.

  • TheGrinch

    Hemp is a better product anyways for both fuel and materials, it smokes most other biofuel sources!

    Take note, most of the new money for third-world economies never makes it to the grassroots worker/farmer.

  • Steve

    Hi, Steve here again!

    The title of the article is “US Scientists make car parts and biodiesel from Coconuts”. Yes, my comments ONLY addressed the biodiesel issue. It wasn’t that I didn’t read the whole article, it was just that my comments were focusing on the biodiesel part of it.

    Regarding the fiber and auto parts issue, if we read it carefully, we have some University scientists saying that “prototype” parts were fabricated. In other words, basically bullshit.

  • Steve

    Hi, Steve here again!

    The title of the article is “US Scientists make car parts and biodiesel from Coconuts”. Yes, my comments ONLY addressed the biodiesel issue. It wasn’t that I didn’t read the whole article, it was just that my comments were focusing on the biodiesel part of it.

    Regarding the fiber and auto parts issue, if we read it carefully, we have some University scientists saying that “prototype” parts were fabricated. In other words, basically bullshit.

  • Luis

    The Philippines has been using coconut oil as biodiesel feedstock for ages, though on and off. When oil prices go up, like in the 70’s the idea becomes popular. When oil price goes down, it is forgotten.

    By law, since 2007, all diesel in the country is 1% biodiesel from coconut oil. This year, this will be increased to 2%.

    Coconut husks, also known as coir, have also been used as car seat stuffing for a very long time.

    Everything is used in the coconut. That’s why it’s called the “tree of life”.

    BTW, check the label on your infant formula. Chances ar, it has coconut oil in it.

  • Luis

    The Philippines has been using coconut oil as biodiesel feedstock for ages, though on and off. When oil prices go up, like in the 70’s the idea becomes popular. When oil price goes down, it is forgotten.

    By law, since 2007, all diesel in the country is 1% biodiesel from coconut oil. This year, this will be increased to 2%.

    Coconut husks, also known as coir, have also been used as car seat stuffing for a very long time.

    Everything is used in the coconut. That’s why it’s called the “tree of life”.

    BTW, check the label on your infant formula. Chances ar, it has coconut oil in it.

  • Doug

    I am a pretty caring person, but I really wish “our” scientists would concentrate on products that can be made in the U.S.A.. I understand that there are poor people the world over, but fix the house before you move on to your neighbor.

  • Doug

    I am a pretty caring person, but I really wish “our” scientists would concentrate on products that can be made in the U.S.A.. I understand that there are poor people the world over, but fix the house before you move on to your neighbor.

  • LonnieB

    Grinch,

    The USA isn’t economically depressed or backward…..WE’RE ECONOMICALLY INSANE!!!!

    We keep electing the same strain of political maggots and expect “change” to be an actually achievable thing!

  • LonnieB

    Grinch,

    The USA isn’t economically depressed or backward…..WE’RE ECONOMICALLY INSANE!!!!

    We keep electing the same strain of political maggots and expect “change” to be an actually achievable thing!

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