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Mar 22, 2012

High-Lignan Biomass From Coconuts Has Potential to Power Significant Amounts Off-Grid Electricity in Rural Asia

Diagram of Coconut Fruit Nuts
Photo: Biology Dept., University of Hamburg, Germany
On 22 March 2012 SciDev.Net reported on an article printed in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences on 21 February 2012 that concluded that biomass from endocarp had the potential to generate significant quantities of off-grid electricity in rural Asia. Endocarp is the inedible part of crops such as almonds, coconuts, pistachios and fruits stones from mangoes, olives, plums, apricots, and cherries.  Lignin is a chemical compound within endocarp.  High-lignan biomass produces an high energy gas when heated that can be used to generate electricity.

Coconuts are one example of a high-lignan biomass that is readily available throughout southeast Asia. According to the PNAS article, it could potential generate 8-30% of total energy needs in Sri Lanka, 7-25% in the Philippines, 4-13% in Indonesia, and 1-3% in India.  This is based on an estimated 24-31 million tone of endocarp available each year.  Most of this is in coconut production. Approximately 55% of all global endocarp production comes from coconuts with another 17% from mangoes.  The greatest amount of coconut production worldwide is in Bangladesh, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

According to Tom Shearin, co-author of the PNAS article and a systems analyst at the University of Kentucky, a map of high-endocarp production was correlated with energy consumption data to identify communities who could benefit from local endocarp biomass and had little access to electricity.  The article concludes that the communities that would benefit the most from this new fuel source were located in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, [as well as] regions of India.

When interviewed by SciDev.Net, Wais Kabir, executive chairman of the Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute about the findings in the PNAS article stated that "most of the country's agricultural waste, including non-edible by-products, was already used to generate bioenergy. ... I don't think that supply of adequate volumes of coconut shell, [for example] to run a power plant, is possible at this stage until we go for its production in a planned way."

Authors of the PNAS article "acknowledged that efforts to scale up infrastructure to deliver decentralised bio-energy in developing countries would face economic, technical and social challenges."

Islam, Syful.  "Coconut and mango waste could help power Asia," SciDev.Net, 22 March 2012.

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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