Combatting energy poverty with coconut oil solution

Energy Power Systems Australia (EPSA) have long been committed to supporting renewable energy advances and were integral to an innovative project in the Pacific Islands that instigated power generation by coconut oil. In 2013, EPSA supplied Cat® generators for coconut oil-fuelled power generation on the Pacific Island nations of Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands. The used generators were part of a project to power two remote villages with no access to the utility grid. EPSA worked with Queensland-based Raw Power Systems (RPS) and Solomon Tropical Products in the Solomon Islands on the project – an initiative of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and funded by the European Union. SPC is an international NGO helping Pacific Island nations achieve sustainable development and agricultural enhancements. Coconut oil is environmentally friendly and sustainable with virtually zero emissions, said RPS Director Sandy Kelly.

“We developed an effective and compact system that enables diesel generators to operate reliably on 100 per cent coconut and other vegetable oils, and EPSA was our first choice as a partner to help implement this clean energy solution. The outstanding quality of Cat and EPSA’s renowned customer service was crucial to the project’s viability and success.”

“As emerging economies, energy poverty is widespread – it is estimated that 70 per cent of Pacific Islander households do not have access to electricity, resulting in a high dependency on expensive imported diesel for fuel, said EPSA Business Development Manager, Chris Sanderson.“The capacity to use coconut oil as fuel is crucial to the economic development of both countries. In addition to supplying areas without power, the coconut by-products also give villagers other opportunities to earn revenue.”

Long referred to as the “tree of life”, the coconut is an underestimated crop with potential for the entire plant to support local economic development, adds Sandy.

Chris says that by using existing resources, real tangible benefits can be delivered.

“Locally produced coconut oil reduces the requirement for expensive imported fuel, thus providing lower energy costs. And, unlike depleting fossil fuels, it is a renewable energy source. Coconut oil for industrial power is virtually free energy as the coconuts can be harvested and processed locally. Any village can install a small system to provide power with an average usage of only three coconuts per kilowatt hour.”

The use of vegetable oils to power diesel is not new. Inventor Rudolf Diesel ran his original engine on peanut oil, while coconut oil was used in the Philippines during WWII when diesel was in short supply. Today, coconut is the world’s most extensively grown and used nut. The harvesting of coconuts and production of the oil and other by-products will drive rural development and employment. The beauty of this system is that it can be run on any vegetable oil, opening the doors for development in many industries in the future, something that EPSA are keen to continue to support.