From Coconuts To Diesel
Discover how Filipino farmers create biofuel from coconuts.
Given the inherent challenges with traditional fossil fuels such as Petroleum and Diesel, much attention has been made in finding more and more ways to create a sustainable and renewable form of combustible fuel that does not involve the extraction of the limited oil located within the Earth’s crust.
In the Philippines, a small group of farmers has developed and introduced a brand new derivative of Biofuel, one that is not only renewable, but is also cheap to produce, and is created from one of the country’s major exports: Coconuts. This “coconut diesel” promises to have the same reliability and functionality as traditional petroleum-derived diesel that is used in the internal combustion engines, whilst finding a use for the tons of coconuts that are wasted due to expiration, or go bad during the off-seasons. This spark of Innovation offers a glimpse into the country’s future in realizing the potential for sustainable and waste-reducing methods of fuel creation.
An Overview of the Biodiesel Industry in the Philippines
Back in 2006, the Philippines’ Department of Energy (DOE) published the Biofuels Act of 2006 aims to reduce the country’s dependence on imported fuels with due regard to the protection of public health, the environment, and the natural ecosystems consistent with the country’s sustainable economic growth.
It mandates the use of biofuels as a measure to develop and utilize indigenous renewable and sustainable-sources clean energy sources to reduce dependence on imported oil; mitigate toxic and greenhouse gas (GSG) emissions; increase rural employment and income; and ensure the availability of alternative and renewable clean energy without any detriment to the natural ecosystem, biodiversity, and food reserves in the country. The law also provides for additional incentives to encourage investments in the production, distribution, and use of locally-produced biofuels at and above the minimum mandated blends.
With this in mind, it is evident that there is a drive for the nation to look for alternatives when it comes to domestic diesel for combustion engine applications. According to the International Trade Association, the Philippines’ energy market (2020) is mostly dominated by fossil fuels, of which Coal: 47% and Natural Gas/Petroleum: 22%. The remaining percentage is a mix of alternative fuels and renewable energy sources such as Hydroelectric, Wind, and Solar. Although these figures mostly reflect the electrical generation industry, they offer an insight into the domestic fuel market as well, implying the country’s dependence on petrol. Currently (2020), the Philippines has several accredited coco biodiesel producers with a registered 614.9 Million Liters/Year
Now the question lingers: what renewable fuel substitutes are available for use in already existing internal combustion engine applications without sacrificing reliability and function?
How Coconuts Are Turned Into Fuel
Before discussing the relevance of Coconut Methyl Ester (CME) in the alternative fuel market, it is important to understand first how this type of biofuel is produced.
The main ingredient in creating CME is Coconut Oil. Just like other oils and animal fats, it contains triglycerides and glycerin. In order for the oil to become combustible fuel, it undergoes a process called Transesterification which turns the oil into esters, separating the Glycerin from the main end product (the biodiesel itself).
Figure 1: Chemical Exchange in Transesterification (Coconut Oils)
Transesterification causes the Glycerin to sink to the bottom of the filtration tank, while the pure Biodiesel remains on top. After this process, the remaining combustible biodiesel can be decanted off using a catalyst like methyl or an ethyl, depending on what is readily available.
Figure 2: Flow Diagram of Coconut Biodiesel
Just for reference, the process of creating biofuel from other products such as animal waste and vegetables are similar. It also involves using a catalyst to decant the biofuel from the glycerine within a filtration tank.
Figure 3: Example Of Biodiesel Production Process (Using Vegetables and Animal Waste)
Performance Standards and Regulation Of Coconut Biodiesel
In order for a fuel substance to be ratified and certified by the Department of Energy (DOE) as a safe biofuel ready for commercial sale and distribution, it needs to pass what is known as the ASTM D-975 regulation, which is the international standard defining the overall qualities needed for any type of Biofuel to be considered safe, reliable, and efficient for use in pre-existing combustion engines such as the ones you see in vehicles and power generation machinery.
In Section 7.c of the Philippine National Standards on Petroleum (2017), a great emphasis has been made on the ASTM D-975 regulation in governing local production and distribution of Coconut-based Biofuels in the country.
In summary, all these regulations are intended to make sure that coconut biodiesel produced in the Philippines will give out similar performance levels as normal diesel, with the insurance of quality, safety, and engine longevity.
Currently, there are several local and independent coconut biodiesel producing entities around the country, all of which using the original process discovered and made popular by the farmers in Central Luzon (unfortunately, there is no official source to add to this). It is worth noting that Coconut biofuel has been observed to have certain benefits to internal combustion engines due to its distinct chemical composition. Like many oil-based biofuels such as ones made from vegetables and animal waste, the end product is a biofuel often high in oxygen content as well as cetane number. This is due to the inert characteristics of oil as a substance. More information shall be provided in the following segments.
Figure 4: Typical Coco Biodiesel Chemical Makeup
Direct Benefits of Coco Biodiesel
Coconut-based biodiesel has existed for about a decade and has boasted several distinct performance quirks that make it similar and even superior to traditional diesel. According to the official DOE publication on Coconut Biodiesel, there are several direct benefits of the production and usage of coconut methyl ester in the Philippine context.
Benefits to Vehicle Owners, Drivers, and Machinery Operators
- Cuts maintenance cost due to the naturally high lubrication levels of Coconut-oil based diesel.
- Increases engine efficiency and lessens vibration due to Coco biodiesel having a higher cetane number and oxygen content.
- Higher oxygen content translates to a more efficient burn, leading to an estimated 20% increase in fuel economy, improved acceleration, and torque.
Benefits to the Local Coconut Industry
- Creates value on spoiled or destroyed coconuts unfit for commercial human consumption.
- Long-term and sustainable.
- Insights productivity and growth for the 3.5 million Filipino coconut farmers spread all over the country.
- Provides security for indigenous natural resources.
- Reduces dependence on fossil fuel-based diesel.
- Creates competition in the energy market which further drives down prices for the consumer.
- Allows the Philippines to participate in the growing global biofuel industry.
Several Hindrances In Moving Forward
The Philippines’ Coco Biodiesel industry offers a very exciting premise for a fully sustainable and renewable form of alternative fuels. With that, it is still worth noting that the industry has only been around for more than a decade and there are several points that need attention when it comes to the viability of Coconut biofuel as a full replacement to petrol in the country.
Firstly, coconut biofuel is still a form of combustible fuel meant for use with internal combustion engines, which does not exempt it from being a contributor to emissions as well as air pollution.
Second, the price of Coconut biodiesel is quite high. Upon the latest review, a gas station in Pasay city (Tiger Biodiesel) sells coco biodiesel for Php 75–80 per liter. Comparing this to normal Euro 4/6 rated gasoline and diesel which barely breaks Php 40 per liter. With this in mind, it is a fact that fossil fuels are just cheaper to extract and distribute, and not all consumers are willing to spend twice the amount of money on a slightly superior and renewable fuel. In an economy where ticket and fare prices are dictated by the price of diesel and gasoline, making the sudden shift to renewable biofuel may shock the economy and drive up prices. Of course, everything comes in balance, where the country would always recuperate lost revenues in travel and transport to stability in prices from the agricultural sector, as well as the lessened dependency on petrol, forcing prices further down to be more competitive. It goes without saying that even non-users of coconut biodiesel will still benefit from its existence in the mainstream.
Utilizing coconut oil and refining it to create a renewable source of diesel fuel is indeed an achievement of Filipino ingenuity and creativity. For the several years that the local industry of biodiesel has existed, it has shown the premise and the possibility of creating excellent fuel from one of the country’s most abundant resources: coconut.
It is evident that the research behind the industry is very well explored, given the amount of literature available for the public on the matter. Tests by both local and foreign entities have also confirmed the potential for Coconut biodiesel as a safe, reliable, and even superior form of diesel, which is in fact renewable. Latest statistics show that the biofuel industry is an emerging market in the Asia-Pacific region, with an estimated 24% growth by the year 2024. As of writing, the Philippines is producing 614.9 Mil. L/Yr of Biodiesel, and counting, which shows promising growth over time, in line with that of the region. All of these provided data are significant, as they offer a very clear picture of where the industry will be in the decades to come.
In the foreseeable future, it may be a common sight to see cars’ gas tanks being filled up with locally produced renewable coco biodiesel. Aside from fueling vehicles, seeing coconut biodiesel in the mainstream will also result in a booming coconut industry which offers the economy a handsome return in the form of stability, growth, innovation, and market competition.
Albeit hopeful and promising, there are still several uncertainties that linger about the future of Coconut Diesel. All of which, in their own way have their own repercussions.
- Data cites that the world is still mainly powered by fossil fuels, and oil companies are willing to stay competitive.
- An investment by a large energy-producing entity in the Philippines in R&D for coco biodiesel would be needed for the further industrialization of the sector.
- More political involvement may be needed to lobby for more research into alternative fuels given the nation’s petrol dominated state.
- More research is needed to refine techniques in production and distribution to bring Coco biodiesel to a price point competitive for the consumers.
- In the ever-evolving field of technology, the concept and development of non-combustion engines such as electric motors and propulsion systems may overtake the development in biofuels, rendering them obsolete decades into the future.
With all of these taken into consideration, the mainstream use of coconut biodiesel offers a bright and sustainable future for the domestic fuel market in the Philippines.
Note: This paper is under material-trace copyright protection.
Sources and Citations
- O.D. Samuel, F.I. Ashiedu (2016). Analysis of Coconut Ethyl Ester and Fossil Diesel Blending. Nigerian Journal of Technology (NIJOTECH) Vol. 35, №1, January 2016, pp. 107–113. Retrieved December 04, 2020
- Department of Energy. Coco Biodiesel. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pca.gov.ph/pdf/techno/biodiesel.pdf
- Production and Testing of Coconut Oil Biodiesel Fuel and its Blend. (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2020, from http://ljs.academicdirect.org/A16/095_104.htm
- Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2017, October 02). Fossil Fuels. Retrieved December 02, 2020, from https://ourworldindata.org/fossil-fuels
- Renewable Hydrocarbon Biofuels. (n.d.). Retrieved December 02, 2020, from https://afdc.energy.gov/fuels/emerging_hydrocarbon.html
- International Trade Association (I.T.A).Philippines Energy Market. (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.trade.gov/market-intelligence/philippines-energy-market
- Biodiesel Producing and Distributing Companies in the Philippines. (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.doe.gov.ph/renewable-energy/list-biodiesel
- D., J. (n.d.). Renewable Diesel. Retrieved December 02, 2020, from https://nextchem.it/renewable-diesel
- G. Kumar, D. Sailandra (2010). Continuous Low-Cost Transesterification Process for the Production of Coconut Biodiesel. Energies. 3. 10.3390/en3010043. Retrieved Dec. 04, 2020
- Biofuels Market: Growth, Trends, and Forecasts (2020–2025). (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/biofuels-market
- ASTM D975–20c, Standard Specification for Diesel Fuel, ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2020. Retrieved December 02, 2020, from https://www.astm.org/Standards/D975.htm