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THE COCONUT AS A RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCE

Julian A. Banzon1
Philippine Journal of Coconut Studies. June 1980.
ABSTRACT
The coconut in the Philippines is shown to be a renewable energy source of large magnitude. The energy
contained in the 1978 harvest of over 12 billion nuts is calculated to equal 31 x 10 12 kilocalories considering only the
energy in the husk and shell; this is equivalent of 3.8 billion liters of gasoline. Each of the existing 377 million trees,
whether bearing or not, sheds one leaf per month; the petiole of each leaf weighs 2.17 kg dry. Energy from these
petioles is calculated to be 39 x 10 12 kilocalories, a value even larger than that from husk and shell because of so many
non-bearing trees. Considering a standard coconut plantation of 150 trees/hectare and bearing 10,000 nuts/year, the
calculated energy from the shell, husk and petiole amounts to 54.5 million kilocalories. For other sizes of nut harvests,
E = 2.6 N + 15.6 where N is in thousand nuts and E is in million kilocalories. If only husk and shell are considered, E =
2.6 N. Shell, husk and petiole may be converted to charcoal, but with an energy loss of about 50 percent; the latter is
partly recoverable by using as fuel the non-condensible gases evolved during charcoaling.
In these days of energy shortage, the worth of the coconut as energy source deserves
consideration. Sugar cane, cassava, forest trees and oil-bearing plants have all been carefully considered as
possible sources of calories. The coconut has been largely ignored probably because of a preconceived
notion that it will not compare well with other crops. In oil yield per unit area of land, the coconut falls
below that of the oil palm for example; in fact the oil production per tree and per hectare is so awfully low
in the Philippines that there has been calls for replacement with crops of greater productivity. While there
has been much enthusiasm in the potential use of coconut oil as diesel fuel substitute, it should be realized
that only 10% of the weight of the nut is coconut oil. By many counts it appears that the coconut is not a
very good commercial crop. Not only is yield per hectare and per tree low, but also there are other reasons
seemingly unfavorable to the coconut. Soybeans for example are known to contain 18% oil, a figure
considered low compared to copra with oil content 60-70%; but it should be noted that coconut oil is only
10% of the weight of the nut. Again soybeans are well ahead in their 40% protein content compared to
coconut with 1% by weight of the whole nut (It is about 4% of the weight of the coconut meat). The nuts
are bulky and heavy and pose problems in transport. One-fifth of the nut is water, a dead weight. The
percentage occurrence of the principal components of the coconut is given in Figure 1.

Fig. 1. Relative Amounts of Components of an Average Coconut (data from the United
Coconut Association of the Philippines UCAP)
Oil 10% (.12kg)
Meat 30% (.36 kg)

Protein 1.05%
Non-oil 20% (.24 kg)

Coconut
100%
(1.2 kg)

Shell 15% (.18 kg)

Minerals .025%
Husk 33.3% (.40 kg)
Coco water 21.7% (.26 kg)

Carbohydrates 3.925%

Member, Board of Editorial Consultants, PJCS.

Moisture 15%

The coconut however has its own good points. It is a permanent crop. Once planted there is no
need to reprepare the land with consequent expenditure of energy. It is non-seasonal ad provides a
continuous supply of nuts practically month after month. This is quite an advantage in maintaining a
processing plant in full operation throughout the year.
Energy-rich components of the coconut. The oil of the coconut is the item first remembered as
the energy-rich component. Several studies have been made in the past regarding energy from coconut oil
(Balce and Moreno, 1936; Banzon, 1953). But if entire dependence is made on the oil (as for diesel fuel
substitute), the yield is rather low, being only 10% of the weight of the nut; the soybean is a better
performer, at 18% oil. The coconut however is unique in having other components of the nut that are
potentially large energy sources. These are the husk, the shell and the leaf. The coconut trunk is not
considered here being harvestable only once and only after several decades. The energy potential of the
components of the coconut is given in Table 1.
Table 1. Energy from Components of an Average Coconut
Component

Kg

Kcal/kg

Energy
Kcal

Percent of
Total Energy

Coconut oil

.12

9000

1080

27.7

Carbohydrates and
proteins

.06

4000

225

5.7

Shell

.18

5500

990

25.4

Husk

.40

4000

1600

41.1

The

3895
99.9
.76
energy value of coconut oil is taken at 9,000 kcal/kg and was adopted after considering the value of 9,288
kcal/kg, gross, given by Child (1974) and a value of 8,944 kcal/kg calculated for trilaurin from the equation
of Kharasch cited in Markeley (1947) and 9,020 kcal/kg in Baileys treatise on fats and oils. Coconut oil
has a slightly higher molecular weight of 645.6 (Banzon & Resurreccion, 1979) than trilaurin, which is
638. Since kcal/kg increases with molecular weight, the rounded figure of 9,000 kcal/kg may be taken as
the best value.

Table 2. Energy from Philippine Harvest of Coconuts, 1978.


Energy
Calculated Gasoline equivalent
Item
Number x
kcal x 1012
for the Year x
for one day x 106
10
9
10
10 liters
liters
Shell
1.2
11.88
1.47
4.0
Husk
1.2
19.20
2.38
6.5
Coco Meat
1.2
15.65
1.94
5.3
Total
46.73
5.79
15.8
* Gasoline equivalent: 8,050 kcal/liter
Shell + husk, total 31.08 x 1012 kcal or 3.85 x 109 liters gasoline equivalent or 10.5 x 1061/day.
The calorific value of coconut shell is taken as 5,500 kcal/kg based on the value given by Paddon
and Parker (1979). The heat of combustion of coconut husk is given by Festin (1976) as 3,515 kcal/kg and
by Wilson (1930) at 4,192 kcal/kg. A rounded value of 4,000 kcal/kg is used in this paper. The non-oil
components of coconut meat are largely carbohydrates. The heats of combustion of starch and of cellulose
are 4,177 and 4,179 kcal/kg respectively (International Critical Tables 1929, cited in Hougen et al., 1954).
For purposes of computations the rounded figure used here is 4,000 kcal/kg as the calorific value of the
carbohydrates and proteins in the coconut meat.
Implications of the energy available from coconut. Considering the 1978 annual harvest given
at 12 billion nuts, the energy obtainable from the Philippine crop is given in Table 2; the salient figures are
the following:
from coconut shell:

990 kcal/nut x 1.2 x 1010 nuts


= 11.88 x 1012 kcal

from coconut husk:

1,600 kcal/nut x 1.2 x 1010nuts


= 19.20 x 1012 kcal

1,305 kcal/nut x 1.2 x 1010 nuts


= 15.65 x 1012 kcal
These figures are better appreciated in terms of gasoline equivalent (liters). Taking the heat of
combustion of gasoline at 0.70kg/l, the heat of combustion comes out to be 8,050 kcal/l gasoline. Hence
from 12 billion nuts, the gasoline equivalent of the shell is 1.47 x 10 9 liters and from the husks, 2.38 x 10 9
liters. Hence, if all the shell and husk of the Philippine coconut crop of 1978 were collected, the energy
contained in the shell and husk is 31.08 x 1012 kcal or 3.85 x 109 liters gasoline equivalent. On a daily basis,
the volume is 10.5 x 106 liters gasoline equivalent.
from coconut meat:

The coconut oil is not considered here since it has its own important use as food; but should it
become necessary to utilize it as fuel, the potential from this energy source is 1,296 x 10 10 kcal or 1.6 x 109
liters of gasoline an average of 0.134 liter per nut. While these amounts of energy are very large, there are
problems in their full utilization. What is endeavored to be shown here is the existence of a very large
source of energy in the coconut. It is shown that the coconut crop is as much an energy crop as it is as a
food crop.
A coconut plantation can rival the so-called energy forests which are grown solely for the wood
fuel that these forests can produce. The coconut plantation has the advantage of producing for besides
energy.
Shell and husk are solid fuels and hence have the peculiarities and problems inherent in this kind
of fuel. Research is needed to solve these problems. The point is: the amount of energy associated with the
shell and husk is so large as to merit the large expense and effort needed by studies to fully exploit these
energy sources. It is apparent that even if only one % of the shell and husk is made use of, the energy which
may be supplied is still in the order of 38.5 million liters of gasoline equivalent/year on 10,500 liters
gasoline equivalent per day.

Comparison of coconut and cassava as energy sources. High hopes are being placed nowadays
on cassava as energy source, the ultimate product is to be fuel alcohol. For the present, assume a yield of 20
MT of cassava roots per hectare. At 33% carbohydrate yield, it will give 6.7 MT of carbohydrate/hectare.
The calorific value of starch is 4,177 kcal/kg. Hence, the energy expected per hectare of cassava is:
6,700 kg x 4,177 kcal/kg = 28 x 106 kcal
or
28 x 106 kcal divided by .085 x 104kcal/l =
3.48 x 103 liters gasoline equivalent.
For the coconut, assume a harvest of 10,000 nuts/hectare which is equivalent to 67 nuts/tree in a
hectare of 150 trees. The total energy potential (oil + shell + husk) of such a hectare of coconut is 36.7 x
106 kcal (Table 3) or 4,550 liters gasoline equivalent. This amount of energy is slightly larger than that from
cassava which is 3,480 liters (28 x 10 6 kcal). If only the shell and the husk are considered, the energy
amounts to 25.9 x 106 kcal or 3,210 liters gasoline equivalent. Thus, the energy in the shell and the husk
from a 10,000 nut-hectare of coconuts is almost as much as can be furnished by a 20-ton/hectare of
cassava. The coconut plantation has the edge over the cassava due to the 1,200 kg oil which can also be
extracted from the coconuts.
Table 3. Energy from Components of the Coconut for Various Nut yields per Hectare.
Nut Yield
Energy, kcal x 106
per ha
per tree
oil
shell
husk
x 1000
Table40
4. Energy from One
at Various Root
6 Hectare of Cassava6.5
5.9 Yields.
9.6
Yield,
MT/ha
Energy
60
9
9.8
8.9
14.4
carbohydrates
kcal 16.0
x 106
67 Roots
10
10.8
9.9
10
3.3
13.9
80
12
13.0
11.9
19.2
5.0 16.2
21.0
100 15
15
14.8
24.0
20
6.7
28.0
120
18
19.4
17.8
28.8
25
8.3
34.9
150 30
22.5
22.3
36.0
10.0 24.3
42.0

total
22.0
33.1
36.7
44.1
55.0
66.0
82.6

35
11.7
49.0
40
13.4
56.0
45
15.0
62.9
50
16.6
69.8
energy potential from (the husks and shell) a hectare of 150 coconut trees giving increasingly larger
harvests of nuts is given in Table 3. Likewise, the energy obtainable from cassava furnishing different
amounts of roots/ha is given in Table 4 from Table 3, the energy E in 10 6 kcal obtainable from shell+ husk
of N nuts (in thousands), may be obtained from the equation: E= 2.59 N and N=0.3862 E. Thus, the number
of nuts needed to give 28 x 106kcal (from 1 ha cassava) is N= 0.3862 x 28 or 10.8 thousands (10,800 nuts).
The

Coconuts charcoals. Charcoal has desirable characteristics as a fuel. It is non-smoky when


burned and is not subject to organic decay, and is a concentrated form of energy; thus while coconut shell
has a heating value of 5,535 kcal/kg, the charcoal made from it has a heating value of 7,200 kcal/kg
(Paddon & Parker, 1979). Other charcoals produced from coconut materials are very promising. Festin and
his students (1976) have been producing coir dust charcoal thus providing another potential commercial
outlet for this industrial nuisance. A recent innovation is the development of coconut husk charcoal by
Lozada (1978). Coconut husk is so loose and friable a material that it has escaped attention in its utilization
as charcoal. The energy inventory of the coconut is given in Table 1 shows that the husk, not only

constitutes the largest component of the nut (33.3%) but also the greatest contributor of energy which is
over 40% of the total energy value of the coconut.

In the carbonization of coconut shell, Wells (1917) obtained a yield of 32.5% charcoal. The noncondensible gases, which may be used as gaseous fuel, amounted to 16.2% of the weight of the shell; as
diagrammed below:

coconut shell

100%
(Wells, 1917)

charcoal, 32.5%

gases, 16.2%

non-charcoal,67.5%

distillates, 51.3%

Tamolang (1976) reports that carbonization of the shell in a retort at 315 0C gave a charcoal with a heating
value of 7,860 kcal/kg and fixed carbon of 83.9% while kilnproduced charcoal at 324 0 C gave fixed carbon
of 69.5% and kcal/kg of 6,784. Lozada (1978) gives 6,540 kcal/kg as the heat of combustion of his shell
charcoal which constituted 28% of the shell or 4.2% of the whole nut. This amounts to 0.0504 kg
charcoal/nut which agrees exactly with the figure given by Montenegro (1976).
Coconut husk charcoal. There is probably little difference in heating value between coconut husk
charcoal and coir dust charcoal, hence they will be discussed together as one. Coir dust charcoal has a
heating value of 5,965 kcal/kg while the fiber, 6,584 kcal/kg (Festin, 1976). It may be noted that the heat of
combustion of carbon is 94,050 kcal/mole or 7,837kcal/kg carbon. Festin (1976) gives a value of 5,688
kcal/kg for coir dust charcoal while Lozada (1978) used the higher figure 6,320kcal/kg. For comparison,
the heat of combustion of cellulose is 4,179 kcal/kg (Hougen et al., 1954) while for coir dust itself, it is
3,515 kcal/kg (Festin, 1976). The process of charcoaling therefore concentrates the energy by removing
extraneous materials leaving the fixed carbon as the final product. The temperature of charcoaling has a
large effect on the relative quantities of the products. For a specific example of charcoaling at 550 0C, the
following was obtained:

charcoal, 35%

coir dust
100%
(Festin, 1976)
non-charcoal, 65%

CH4
H2
gases, 32%
CO
Lozada
(1978) CO 2

who has been producing


distillates, 33%
coconut husk charcoal quite extensively for his newly
purpose drier, gets a yield of charcoal at only 22% of

10%
42%
27%
21%

invented
general
the weight of the husk.

The energy potentially available from coconut shell charcoal and coconut husk of one nut may be
summarized as follows:

shell
coconut
1.2 kg

0.18 kg

shell charcoal 0.0504 kg 362 kcal


(at 7,200 kcal/kg)

Total energy potential from 12 billion nuts:

husk

0.40 kg

husk charcoal 0.0868 kg548 kcal


(at 6,320 kcal/kg)

From shell char 1.2 x 1010 x 362 kcal = 4.34 x 1012 kcal
From husk char 1.2 x 1010 x 548 kcal = 6.57x 1012 kcal
Total

10.91 x 1012 kcal

Energy recovery as charcoal. During the process of charcoaling, non-condensible gases and
liquid distillates are removed and solid charcoal with very little volatile matter is left. The total heating
value of the charcoal is less than that of the original material, either shell or husk. The extent of such
reduction in calories from one coconut is as follows:
Heating value in kcal:
Material

of material

shell
husk

990
1600

% energy recovered
of charcoal

as charcoal

362
548

36.5
34.3

These heating values show that as much as possible the shell and the husk should preferably be used direct
as fuel to avoid energy loss. Part of the lost energy is recoverable by using the gases generated during
charcoaling, as fuel. Pilot plant studies on this topic have been reported by Cruz (1978) and by Festin
(1976). The calculated energies of shell charcoal and husk charcoal at various nut yields/hectare are given
in Table 5.
The leaves of the coconut. One of the largest leaves of the plant world is that of the coconut. It
averages 6.1 m (20 ft) long and weighs 2.65 kg air-dry (Zuniga et al. 1965). The average number of fallen
leaves/hectare is reported at 2,507/year. Ninety-one percent of the leaf is the petiole which is often used as
fuel for cooking in the villages. The leafblade constitutes 7%, and the midribs, 2% of the leaf.
To assess the fuel potential of the coconut leaf, only the petiole will be considered here, hence in
one leaf, the petiole will weigh 0.91 x 2.65 kg x 0.90 (10% moisture) or 2.17 kg dry. There are at present
(1979) 376.9 million trees (Anon, 1978) each producing at least 12 leaves a year or a total of 45 x 10 8
leaves with a total weight of 4,000 kcal/kg makes the energy available from the coconut petiole equal to 39
x 1012 kcal. Summarily, the 12 billion nuts excluding he oil can yield the following energy potential:
energy fro shell
:
11.88 x 1012 kcal
energy from husk
:
19.20 x 1012 kcal
energy from leaves
:
39.00x 1012 kcal
12
or a total of 70.00 x 10 kcal equivalent to 8.6 billion liters of gasoline.
Probably about a fraction of this energy is already being used for many purposes like drying of
copra, cooking fuel, production of shell charcoal etc.

The (coconut) energy plantation. There is so much talk nowadays about establishing energy
plantations:

Table 5. Energy from Shell-Charcoal, Husk-Charcoal and from Uncarbonized Shell and Husk,
per Hectare of Various Nut Yields
Energy in kcal x 106
uncarbonized
nuts/ha
X 103
shell
husk
total
shell + husk
6
2.2
3.3
5.5
15.5
9
3.2
4.9
8.1
23.3
10
3.6
5.5
9.1
25.9
12
4.4
6.6
11.0
31.1
15
5.4
8.2
13.6
38.8
18
6.5
9.9
16.4
46.2
22.5
8.1
12.3
20.4
58.3
quick-growing tress that either can be cut back periodically or can be replanted vegetatively. It is shown
here in this study, that the coconut plantation is not only an excellent energy plantation but also contains
elements of more advanced concepts:
1. The tree is not cut down as has not be done in the case of forest trees. The energy harvest is in
the form of husk, shell and leaf-petioles.
2. The energy harvest (of shell, husk and petioles) is more or less regular throughout the year; the
supply of energy is practically uniform, month by month.
3. The plantation is permanent and needs no replanting.
4. The energy-rich material is only a by-product and hence low cost; the main commercial product
is the coconut meat from which oil, copra meal, desiccated coconut, etc., are commercially
prepared and marketed.
5. The coconut (as well as some palms) have leaves with petioles heavy enough and woody as to
be harvestable for commercial fuel purposes. The production of these leaves by the tree is very
regular, once a month; their formation is certain and independent of fruit production.
While planners are still calculating and designing their energy plantations, the coconut industry
has these plantations already existing to the extent of 2.7 million hectares; 377 million trees producing 11.8
billion nuts (Philippine Coconut Authority, 1978); 15% of the nut is shell and 33% is husk. Each coconut
tree, whether bearing or not sheds 12 leaves per year, each leaf averaging 2.17 kg dry. For a hypothetical
one hectare containing 150 coconut trees bearing 10,000 nuts and 1,800 leaf petioles per year, the energy
yield to be expected is given in Table 6.
CONCLUSION
At, present only meat of the coconut which comprises 30% of the nut is utilized commercially.
The component considered most valuable which is the oil comprises only 10% of the nut. In these days of
energy shortage, advantage should be taken of the shell, the husk and the leaves as fuel. It is not a matter of
coconut yields per hectare or per tree; the real situation is that the Philippines harvested more than 10
billion nuts in 1977 and is increasing with the years. This is a virtual energy plantation already existing.
The shell and husk of this plantation has already calculated energy value of 31 x 10 12 kilocalories
equivalent to about 3,850 million liters of gasoline. Research should now be directed towards realization of
the uses of this energy potential. Some of the problems are: cost of collection of shell, husk and leaves; and
the inefficient use of these solid fuels.
Coconut shell and husk as well as leaves as energy sources have alluring prospects. There is no
need for market surveys nor for sophisticated processing and construction of factories. The shell and husk

can be utilized as they are. There are of course problems of gathering, transport and efficient usage but
these are minor compared with the problems of locating or expanding the markets for the traditional
coconut products.
LITERATURE CITED
Anon. 1978. Magnitudes of the Coconut Industry. (Philippines) Coconut Farmers Bulletin 2(2): 15-17.
Balce, S. and H. Moreno. 1936. Pyrolysis of Coconut Oil. (Philippines) Nat.& Appl. Sci.Bull 5(2): 151-2.
Baileys Industrial Oil and Fat Products, D. Swern, editor 1964. Interscience.
Banzon, J.A. 1953. A Possible Fuel from Coconut Oil and Alcohol. 8 th Pacific Sc. Congress. Proceedings 6B:204-6. Nat. Res. Council of the Phil.
Manila.
Banzon, J. and A. Resurrecion. 1979. Fatty Acid Distribution in Coconut Oil obtained by four processing methods and secured from four Philippine
types of coconuts. Phil. J. Coc. Stud. 4(2):1-8.
Cruz, Ibarra E. 1978. Integrated System of Copra Drying and Charcoal Production. Seminar on Copra Drying. Proceedings. Phil.Council for Ag and
Resources Res.- Phil Coco Authority. Q. City.
Festin, T. F. 1976. Energy from the Coconut. Seminar Workshop on Coconut Industrial Research. Proceedings. Phil.Coco. Authority NSDB
PCRDF. Tagaytay City.
Hougen, et al. 1954. Chemical Process Principles. Wiley.
Lozada, E. P. 1978.The UPLB Copra Drier. Professional Chair (PCRDF) Lecture. Univ. of the Phil. at Los Banos.
Montenegro, H. M. 1976. Coconut shell charcoal and the activated char Industries. Seminar Workshop on Coconut Industrial Research. Proceedings
Phil. Coco. Authority NSDB PCRDF. Tagaytay City.
Paddon, A.R. ad A. P. Parker 1979. Tropical Products Institute. G119, IV + 29 pp.
Semana, J.A. and P. V. Bawagan. 1979. Fuelwood Plantations for Dendro-thermal Power Plants. Annual Scientific Meeting, Kapisanan ng mga
Kimiko sa Pilipinas, (Chemical Society of the Philippines), Los Banos Chapter, at Pagsanjan, Laguna.
Tamolang, F.N. 1976. Utilization of Coconut Trunk and Other Parts of the Coconut. Seminar Workshop on Coconut Industrial Research,
Proceedings. Phil. Coco Authority NSDB PCRDF. Tagaytay City.
United Coconut Asso. Philippines: 1973 Coconut Statistics 4(4).
Wells, A. H. 1917. Destructive Distillation of Phil. Woods. Phil. J. Science 12:111-125.
Wilson, S.K. J. 1930. Calorific value of coconut husks. C.A. 24:4914.
Zuniga, L.,C. Pampolina and E. Pampolina. 1965. Number of Dried Leaves Falling or About to Fall per Day per Hectare in Coconut Plantation.
National Science Development Board (Philippines) No. 2.93.