Coconut oil has gained recognition as a safe and natural product with a multitude of uses. It has proven valuable in treating a variety of health concerns ranging from psoriasis to obesity. Coconut oil is used in food preparation and as a skin lotion, sun block, healing salve, lip moisturizer, hair conditioner, and dietary supplement. It’s also a primary ingredient in many soaps, lotions, and beauty products.
Another remarkable benefit is that it can help protect the lungs from the dangers of air pollution. How can it accomplish this incredible feat? It can do this as a fuel additive or fuel replacement to power automobiles and generators. Coconut oil is an amazingly clean source of energy that can significantly reduce air pollution.
The technical feasibility of using coconut oil in diesel engines has been successfully demonstrated in trials in many Asian and Pacific countries. The use of coconut oil in diesel engines is not new. Vegetable oils have been used to power diesels for years. In fact, the inventor Rudolf Diesel ran his original engine on peanut oil.
Coconut oil has been used periodically throughout the South Pacific for decades. It was used extensively in the Philippines during the Second World War when diesel was in short supply. Since then, the wide availability of diesel throughout the world and difficulties in running engines on coconut oil in cooler weather virtually ended its use in this way. In recent years, however, there has been a revival of interest. This is due to the growing demand for fuel, frequent shortages, and increasing energy prices. There are also concerns about environmental pollution caused by the use of petroleum.
Probably no one is more experienced in using coconut oil to power automobiles than 52-year-old Australian born mechanic Tony Deamer. Now living in Vanuatu—a small island nation in the South Pacific—Deamer has championed the use of coconut oil as an alternative source of fuel for many years.
Coconut oil has many advantages over petroleum, including a smoother ride with plenty of power. “Rounding a corner and heading up a steep hill outside the capital of Port Vila,” writes one reporter, “Tony Deamer stomped on the gas pedal of his Range Rover—but didn’t downshift. With nary a sputter or a cough, the vehicle—modified to run on coconut oil instead of diesel fuel—took the incline in stride.”
“Coconut oil is a bit more torquey, because it burns slower,” says Deamer, “Normally, I’d have to shift down into first gear, but with coconut oil, I can keep it in second.”
Among the other advantages: it doesn’t make black smoke, it is less costly (at least in the South Pacific), it has the potential to stimulate employment among local coconut growers, and, perhaps most importantly for the world at large, it is an environmentally friendly fuel. And, according to Deamer, cars burning it can be fun to drive.
Deamer has succeeded in proving that automotive diesel engines, with very little modification, can run safely on pure coconut oil as well as coconut oil/petroleum mixes.
Some 200 minibuses in Vanuatu are using a coconut oil/diesel mix on a daily basis. Deamer runs his fleet of rental vehicles on a blend of 85% coconut oil and 15% kerosene. Countries such as Thailand and the Philippines are using coconut oil based fuels in many of their government owned vehicles.
The main drawback with using coconut oil is that it solidifies at temperatures below 76° F (24°C). When it becomes solid it can’t flow through the fuel lines and filters. This is a definite problem in temperate climates and even in many places in the tropics where temperatures can drop below this point at night.
In the tropics coconut oil can be mixed with up to about 20% diesel without any modifications to the engine. Pure coconut oil or a coconut oil/diesel mix over 20% needs some modification to the fuel system. This problem is overcome by using either a twin tank system or a pre-heater fitted to the fuel line. In the twin tank system one tank is used for diesel and another for coconut oil. The engine is started and stopped on diesel. The exhaust or coolant hoses are run through the coconut oil tank to heat it. When the oil reaches a safe operating temperature an automatic switchover device changes the supply from diesel to coconut oil. An advantage of this system is no coconut oil is left in the engine which might solidify in the injectors when the engine is stopped and cooled down. With a pre-heater on the fuel line, pure coconut oil or a coconut oil/diesel mix can be fed from a single tank.
There are numerous benefits to using coconut oil. If the oil is produced locally it can be cheaper than imported fuel. This can have a significant economic impact by lowering energy costs and providing employment to locals to harvest coconuts and produce the oil. Unlike fossil fuels which are being depleted, coconut oil is a renewable energy source that is virtually unlimited. Coconut oil is easy to use. It works in diesel engines without any major modifications. Coconut oil enhances fuel economy, performance, and endurance and is environmentally friendly.
Different vegetable oils are being tested around the world as alternative sources of fuel. Most vegetable oils, however, must be converted in biodiesel to be of any practical use. Unaltered polyunsaturated vegetable oils like soybean and linseed oils undergo chemical changes in the engine forming tough epoxy-like deposits that can clog valves, injectors, and pistons and cause loss of power and excessive wear.
Coconut oil is chemically more stable than other oils and has better burning properties making it, without question, the best oil for diesel use. Unlike most other vegetable oils, diesel engines can run on 100% coconut oil or a mixture of coconut oil and diesel or coconut biodiesel. Biodiesel is produced through a process called transesterification in which coconut oil is made to react with alcohol, forming an ester—coconut methyl ester or coconut biodiesel.
Coconut biodiesel can be substituted completely for diesel or blended with it. Because production is relatively expensive, it is generally mixed with diesel.
Coconut biodiesel is being used in public and government vehicles in many countries. This is one of the trucks operated by the Philippine Department of Agriculture.