Coconut Oil As A Biofuel

During the Second World War the armies fighting in the Philippines used coconut oil to run diesel engines. Since then many further experiments and trials have been successfully run using coconut oil as a direct substitute for diesel. Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea had diesel generators and trucks run on locally produced coconut oil during a trade blockade. A coconut oil/diesel fuel blend currently being used in Vanuatu initially mixes 20 parts coconut oil with one part kerosene. This blend is then mixed 2:1 with diesel to give an effective 64% coconut oil bio-fuel. The Mechanical Engineering Department of the University of Wollongong in Australia has done extensive tests on blends of coconut oil with diesel, kerosene and ethanol. The good news for the islands is that, in their hot conditions, pure, well-filtered coconut oil is indeed an excellent substitute for diesel. This has significant import-substitution and rural electrification implications. Baylor University in the USA is also working with Dr John Pumwa in assisting Papua New Guinea with research in this area.

There have been many exhaustive studies done on coconut oil as a biofuel and we have a number of papers for downloading on the subject. The short summary is

  • Coconut oil make an excellent diesel substitute with some criteria
    • It solidifies at approx 25°C
    • It runs best on stationary plant with constant fixed load of around 75% capacity
    • It runs best with indirect injection systems
    • It operates better at approx 70°C as the viscosity is lower
    • Clean the injector every 150 hours for the first year to determine the level of carbonizing and set up a suitable future regime.
    • A duel tank system works well starting and running the first 15min on petroleum diesel then switching over to coconut oil and end the days work in the reverse manner shutting down fore the last 15mins on petroleum diesel.
    • Preheat the CNO fuel using a heat exchanger running off the cooling system
    • It is NOT successful with Lucas/CAV rotary injector pumps and the more modern engines but older style  engines coming out of China and India are much more suited as is gravity feed fuel tanks.
  • Coconut oil has less emissions and toxic fumes than petroleum diesel fuel
  • Coconut oil runs smoother and reduces engine knock
  • Coconut oil is available to the producer in remote areas to run machinery and generate electricity when the roads are cut off in the wet or prices are too high
  • Coconut Oil is a sustainable resource



Bio-fuel in the Solomon Islands

We have recently witnessed DME Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) being used in a 50/50diesel/VCO by a number of our producers in the Solomon Islands and at our headquarters in Honiara. Specifically in a Toyota Hilux 4WD, a Mitsubishi Truck  and in  a tractors.  The main thing is to make sure the oil is well settled and that there is no sediment in it. The fumes have a sweeter smell and the engines tend to run smoother on coconut oil.

Moving out from the centres imported fuel costs rise and cost of coconut oil falls. At the crossover point and further out its cheaper to run coconut oil thus empowering the local communities to build their own future and not be a slave to import prices as has been the case in the past.

While 100% VCO can be used, some operators find that with the cooler nights it can start to be a bit viscous as below 26º it starts to go solid. With a blend this has not been an issue for them.

Some of the above story featured on the SBS news (7 Aug 2006) in Australia along with the work of Kokonut Pacific in the Solomon Islands.

Coconut power in PNG

COCONUTS can save the nation millions of kina by replacing much of the diesel fuel imported for cars, trucks and generators, a rural businessman believes. He has put his money where his mouth is by establishing a village factory to produce coconut oil fit for running diesel engines. He is German-born former volunteer Mathias Horn, who with Buka wife Carol runs the Buka Metal Fabricators company in Buka Town. He is not alone. Two shipping companies based in Rabaul have been buying coconut oil from the long established Copra Products Ltd mill at Malaguna for the past couple of years and have largely replaced diesel fuel for their ships. Bureau of Statistics figures show that PNG imported 152 million litres of diesel fuel last year at a cost of about K191 million.

The petrol pump price for diesel in Port Moresby yesterday was K2.68.6 a litre. Buka coconut diesel is selling at K2 a litre. Coastal and islands provinces all have ample village plots and plantations of mature coconut trees and could set up similar operations to the Buka one. On present prices, it is realistic to buy copra and produce fuel oil for vehicles, says Mr Horn who was a instructor with the volunteer group German Develop-ment Service and was teaching metal fabrication and welding to students in Wapenamanda, Enga Province and Popondetta back in the 1990s and settled in Buka in 1998. Mathias and Carol heard about the experiments in coconut fuel in Vanuatu and other places. For the past two to three years, he has been running several of his own diesel engine vehicles exclusively on coconut oil. He vows the results are good for his vehicles and for the economy.

He showed a truck, a forklift and a car running on the fuel and said he had proved to his own satisfaction that there were no major obstacles to using coconut oil in diesel engines in the tropics. “We buy copra by the bag from the village people around Carol’s village, Lontis, and make sure it is dried to the right standard and then put it through the filtering process to get out the impurities,’’ Mr Horn said. He showed me his filtering plant, a series of four tanks, where the oil goes through a step-by-step process to render it fit for use in diesel motors. It results in oil for engines, home made oil lamps, chainsaw bar lubrication, and cosmetic oils for use by people on their skin and in their hair. They are making a very high grade cooking oil, which is healthy in terms of weight loss and preventing infections and heart disease. A sample is with Dr Lohi Matainaho at the University of PNG for further analysis. Now the vehicle used by the Bougainville Administrator Peter Tsiamalil, plus another dozen or so, are run on the Horn family’s coconut oil. Recently it was announced all of the government cars in Vanuatu are to be converted to coconut oil fuel. Mr Horn has a fuel pump in his company yard at Buka and sells the oil to other vehicle owners at a substantial savings compared with the normal diesel. This week, he was selling it for K2 a litre, compared with the retail price of K3.20 for diesel in the town.

Hurricane lamp mix

For places such as west Papua where the price of fossil fuels is extremely expensive using a mixture of 30% Kerosene and 70% coconut oil in hurricane lamps is not only a good way to save money but can allow lights to be on longer at night

LED Light Generator solution

Another solution is to use rechargeable batteries to run LED light that draw very little current and then recharge the batteries with a diesel generator running on coconut oil biofuel. In fact a person with such a generator can use this a small business opportunity by charging a nominal amount for charging. He may even choose to introduce and sell such lights and batteries.