A Thai farmer from a rural province south of Bangkok has found yet another use for the versatile coconut. Not only does its flesh provide food, its trunk supply wood, and its juice make a delicious drink, but now Kitti Maneesrikul is using its oil to fuel the family truck.
High fuel costs and low commodity prices have brought suffering to many small farmers. Increasingly, coconut oil has meant cheap fuel for a growing number of the rural poor in Thailand.
The oil is extracted from the dried flesh of the coconuts and used for cooking. Afterwards, it is disposed of and often ends up in the waterways. Maneesrikul discovered that he could filter his family’s used cooking oil, add a small boost of kerosene, and use it to fill the gas tank on his pick-up truck. The coconut fuel is 30 percent cheaper than diesel and saves the family about $115 a month.
Maneesrikul has expanded his sources and now buys used coconut oil from food vendors. Although some scientists want the oil tested for possible cancer-causing pollutants, the coconut oil burns cleaner than diesel and does not produce carbon dioxide.
Coconut oil fuel could be enormously valuable to Thailand, which produces more than a billion coconuts a year. It would be particularly appropriate as an alternative fuel for agricultural equipment and fishing boats.
News of Maneesrikul’s success has spread quickly. People show up at his home daily to learn his technique and others have already put their new knowledge to work. In coconut-rich southern Thailand, a ferry service has switched entirely to coconut oil for its three boats at an estimated savings of $10,000 a month.