oil to churn out bio diesel
All over the world, the prices of
petroleum products are escalating. In 1990, the price
of a litre of diesel was about Rs.8. Today, it has exceeded
Rs.70 and still spiraling further. The price rise in
crude oil in the world market in this manner has severely
affected inflation existent throughout the world.
German national, Radolf Diesel's historical
comment made at the time of obtaining the patent rights
for the diesel engine manufactured by him in 1912 is
highly relevant and important today. "The use of
plant oil as fuel may seem insignificant today. But
such products can in time become just as important as
Kerosene and these coal tar products of today".
Then in 1912, it was not an era for
discussing subjects like energy crises, change of climatic
systems and holes in ozone layer like today. But Radolf
Diesel, who had foreseen the petroleum fuel crisis experienced
by us today, had mentioned that oil obtained from trees/plants
could be used, as an alternative for the above problem.
The diesel engine was created at a
time when there was more than enough diesel in the world.
What should be done today is to manufacture a suitable
engine or adjust it to utilize the plant based oil now
available in plenty. This job was initiated in 1970
by another German national called Ludwig Elsbete. Elsbete’s
engine functions very well on plant oil. It is 40% more
efficient than a normal Diesel engine.
What is Bio-diesel?
Bio-diesel is made from oil obtained from plants and
is renewable and biodegradable. It is natural hydrocarbon
and does not contain sulphur. Since no sulphur is emitted
in combustion, the atmosphere is not polluted.
International and indigenous
coconut oil market
The world coconut crop has become marginal from the
1960s; that is the income from this is gradually falling.
Coconut oil production, which stood at 12.1% of the
overall vegetable oil production of the world in 1960,
has fallen to a position as low as 2.9% by 2004. Moreover,
there has been a depression of -0.061% in the global
coconut oil production from 1960 while a growth of +
9.6% in the palm kernel oil production is evident. Accordingly,
not only in Sri Lanka but also in most of other coconut
producing countries, coconut, as a form of economic
crop, has fallen off. Therefore, the acreage under coconut
cultivation and the production are dwindling on a global
level. Due to these very circumstances, a situation
has arisen where the coconut grower is unable to obtain
a reasonable price for his product.
At present, because of the drop in
the prices of coconut, interest among the farmers for
cultivation of coconut has also reduced. In fact, it
is during the period of scarcity of coconuts i.e. when
there is a high demand for coconuts for local consumption
during October- March that the coconut growers of this
country get a proper price. The coconut grower does
not obtain a high price because of the export of coconut
oil and desiccated coconut at lower international price.
Therefore, if coconut is to continue as an economic
crop, a reasonable price should be available for the
coconut produced by the coconut grower. For this purpose,
new avenues of demands have to be explored through research
In the recent past, before the scarcity of petroleum
products such as diesel and their soaring prices to
unbearable level, many countries in the world were conducting
research to explore the possibility of using plant based
oil such as coconut oil obtained from trees as fuel
with European countries such as Denmark and Sweden in
the forefront of these developments. In Sweden, there
are even trains running on bio-diesel generated from
In India, a train runs daily from
Amritsar to New Delhi on "Jatropa bio-diesel".
The first ever record of utilizing
coconut oil as bio-diesel on a commercial scale was
made in the city of Cibu in the Philippines. In February,
2004, the sale of coconut oil, coco methyl and coco
bio-diesel commenced at filling stations in the city
Now there are 80 filling stations
in the city of Cibu alone in the Philippines selling
coco methyl ester produced from coconut oil and petrol
containing ester while there are 48 filling stations
in the same city selling diesel directly mixed with
coconut oil. Still, as per prices prevailing in the
Philippines, the price of coco diesel is 3% more than
the petrol diesel. But the gap is speedily reducing.
What is more important is that the vehicles using coco
diesel can run 17% more distance.
There are about 3.5 million coconut
growers in the Philippines.
The coconut crop is the economic mainstay
of the people there, who numbers about 200 million.
The important decision conveyed by President Gloria
Arroyo’s administration by circular number 55
on 9th February, 2004 has to be followed by us in our
country too without delay.
That is to say that for all vehicles
belonging to government departments, corporations, boards
and other state institutions must use methyl ester manufactured
from coconut oil or 1 % of coco bio-diesel should be
used. Moreover, the above circular had ordered that
all oil companies operating within the Philippines should
cooperate and contribute towards the implementation
of this alternative energy process. Encouragement has
been offered for sale of coco bio-diesel blended with
1% coconut oil in open market (outside filling stations).
At present, in the Philippines, about
60,000 tonnes of coconut oil per year is being converted
into coco bio-diesel.
Processes of turning coconut
oil into diesel
There are two ways of producing diesel out of coconut
oil. In the first process, unpurified coconut oil is
subjected to a process of purifying and filtering for
producing purified coconut oil. 1% of this is directly
blended with diesel. In the Marshall Islands, using
this technology, filtered coconut oil up to 50% is blended
with diesel and heavy machinery like ships and caterpillars
are successfully operated. The efficiency of the engine
is enhanced in this process and it has been confirmed
that no adverse effect is caused to the engine. This
has developed a great demand for coconut oil at present
in the Marshall Islands.
The second process is somewhat complex.
In this method, firstly separating glycerin from coconut
oil, coco methyl ester is produced. Out of this too,
methanol is removed and subjected to a further process
of purification, Coco bio- diesel is manufactured. 10%
of this can very easily be blended with diesel.
Characteristics of coco bio-diesel
Coco bio-diesel in every respect is better than petroleum
diesel. It has five main advantages – oxygenated,
high lubricity, sulfur-free, solvency and detergency
and high octane.
While there may be different arguments
in favour of vegetable oil obtainable from other plants
against coconut oil in the production of bio-diesel.
But the following table confirms that the coco bio-diesel
is qualitatively higher than the other bio-diesel.
High quality of the Coco bio-diesel
The cocoa bio diesel obtained from coconut oil increases
the combustion of the engine and thereby enhances the
efficiency of the engine. As a result, vehicles using
this fuel can run longer distances on a litre while
the air emitted from the engine is clean.
Profitability of coco bio diesel
If coco bio diesel is to be used in a greater volume,
it should be cheaper than the petro- diesel. The use
of coco-diesel is profitable when compared with the
present prevailing price of Rs 72 per litre of diesel.
While a vehicle using ordinary diesel can run about
8 kilometers per litre, a vehicle using coco bio diesel
can run 9 kilometers. Moreover, when compared with the
environmental benefits and the efficiencies to be achieved,
the country is placed at present in a situation requiring
the use of coco bio diesel.
What should be done
Following the examples set by countries like the Philippines
and the Marshall Islands, it is imperative that we should
provide necessary encouragement and introduce required
legislation and standards soon for the purpose. Accordingly,
action needs to be initiated to use a volume of 1% of
coconut oil as bio diesel. At the initial stages, encouragement
can be given to use coconut oil in farm equipment and
machinery such as tractors, water pumps etc. Subsequently,
it can be extended to transport vehicles as well.
On the other hand, encouragement has
to be given to investors for manufacturing methyl ester
of a high quality out of coconut oil and the product
should also be introduced to the market. Institutions
working on the development of alternative energy resources
should carry out research and development for this and
the use of coco bio diesel for the first time should
be used on vehicles owned by the state.
Is there sufficient crop?
In 2005, the country imported 30 million metric tonnes
of diesel. If action is to be taken to blend 1% of coconut
oil into the above quantity of diesel, the required
quantity of coconut for the manufacture of necessary
coconut oil has to come from a coconut plantation of
90,000 acres in extent.
Currently, only one million acres
of coconut plantation is available in the country and
since the demand generated from the above activity will
be more than 10%, the demand for coconuts will increase
and as a result, a better and reasonable price would
automatically be available for the coconut grower. Extra
quantity of coconut oil can be manufactured when there
is excess yield (i.e. in the months of May- June) and
it will be a significant investment to produce coco
bio diesel out of the above extra oil and store it as
The first challenge would be the influence emanating
from petroleum oil companies with powerful financial
Therefore, state intervention is indispensable.
Secondly, in order to ensure the quality, a standard
has to be introduced for coco bio-diesel to be produced
There could be a shortage of coconuts
for consumption and programmes have to be formulated
to maintain equilibrium of prices of coco bio-diesel
and to popularize the coco bio-diesel in the market.
Finally, plans have to be devised
to grow more coconut to conserve the coconus plantations
and offer more incentives.
Coco bio diesel 91% 9%
Palm bio diesel 49%
Jatropa bio diesel 22%
Soya bio diesel 16% 84%
Rapeseed bio diesel 6% 94%
Petro diesel 40%
Characteristics Coco bio-diesel
490 C Flash
handling & storage
of Sulphur dioxide
Oxygen content 11%
(BOCLE) more than 7000 Enhances fuel
3600 C T 90 temperature 3160
C Easily combustible
– less smoke