Monday, April 23, 2007

How Green is Coco Diesel?

After watching a series of documentaries presented by the BBC in their climate watch series, I think its about time that we reevaluate coco diesel’s green credentials.

By: Vanessa Uy

Coco diesel is a bio fuel derived from the coconut fruit that can run conventional diesel engines with varying degrees of very minor modifications. At first, anyone, including the experts will testify that this is a very good way to limit our technological society’s continuous adding of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, which is the main cause of global warming. Note: that coconut trees are continually growing and producing fruits and every time it does this it removes the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere where the gas increases the greenhouse effect to the coconuts various parts where the carbon dioxide is converted to cellulose. This is the idea behind “carbon capture” where excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is removed from where it causes the most harm to where it can be stored safely like the coconut tree’s cellulose structure. As we already know, excess carbon dioxide produced by our technological society is contributing to the greenhouse effect that’s warming up our planet thus increasing the strength of new hurricanes causing widespread damage.

This carbon capture solution via the widespread planting of coconut trees for use in bio fuel production seems like hitting two birds with one stone. Since coconut trees are sustainable because it continually bears fruits where the coco diesel can be processed unlike “fossil fuel” sources like petroleum in which the gasoline or diesel fuels derived from this doesn’t revert back to petroleum as opposed to a bio fuel like coco diesel.

So, what’s the problem? After watching those BBC documentaries on their climate watch series, so far, the scientists haven’t yet conducted studies on the extent on how truly carbon neutral (i.e. doesn’t contribute carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) plant derived bio fuels are from all levels of production to usage. After the coco diesel is burned in an internal combustion engine either for transport or electricity generation, the resulting carbon dioxide gas lingers in the atmosphere for a while. No study yet exists if how long should this carbon dioxide be allowed to linger in the atmosphere before it becomes a problem. It takes a relatively long time for this carbon dioxide to be absorbed into the coconut tree’s cellulose structure compared to the length of time coco diesel is produced from the coconut fruit. Also, the process of husking the coconut fruit and producing coco diesel takes energy at present, this energy is likely being generated by burning fossil fuels.

Also, using crops which are originally intended as food so that affluent people could continue to drive around their cars without being penalized by upcoming stricter environmental laws might do more harm than good. Coconut based food products would skyrocket, increasing the burden of the poor on their daily meals.

Another problem that hinders coco diesel from becoming fiscally competitive to petroleum derived diesel is the government-concerned-dragging-of-heels in legislating tax cuts and issuing grants to those start up companies who are making coco diesel.

Fortunately until a newer study of this nature is presented, bio fuels like coco diesel might only be a bit cleaner than their fossil fuel derived counterparts. The BBC, CNN, Discovery Channel, National Geographic or any other environmentally concerned media corporation are not likely to run out of ideas for documentaries about how to take better care of our planet.

If you like to know more about the carbon cycle and view detailed diagrams, check out “”.

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