Bioflame Project: Sustainable Bioethanol and Other Coconut Products
Coconut is considered the tree of life because of its many uses which provide opportunities for smallholder farmers to improve their income and sustain their livelihoods. Despite this, however, smallholder coconut farmers continue to subsist on poverty. The low price of coconut oil on the world market brought economic tragedy to the coconut industry, hitting especially hard the smallholder farmers who rely mainly on copra and oil production, and earn an average income of US$200 a year.
Thirty percent of coconut lands in the Philippines (about one million hectares) are in mountainous areas and island villages, being tended by the poorest of the coconut farmers. Aside from marketing and transport problems, these areas are barely reached by government services and have no access to electricity. Hence coconut farming households use kerosene lamps for their source of light.
To help alleviate the plight of smallholder coconut farmers, Trowel Development Foundation of the Philippines, one of the 25 winners of the Equator Prize 2010, embarks on another community initiative – the Coconut Farm Development Program. In partnership with the Coconut Industry Investment Fund, Trowel established three coconut nurseries in three municipalities Northern Samar.
More than 250,000 coconut seedlings were germinated in these nurseries and distributed later to more than 1000 smallholder coconut farmers who are members of 30 village-level cooperatives and three municipal-level cooperative federations affiliated with the Pambansang Pederasyon ng Kooperatiba ng Magniniyog (National Federation of Coconut Farmers Cooperatives). The replanted seedlings replaced the senile, and non-bearing coconut trees on over 2,500 hectares of coconut lands in the province in the latter part of 2008.
In 2009, Trowel forged a partnership agreement with Gilbuela and Associates, and the College of Engineering of the University of Eastern Philippines to engage the members of PPKM in the production of bioethanol from coconut sap.
The bioethanol can be used as biofuel and provide lighting and fuel for cooking. Local production of ethanol can provide alternative livelihoods for sap gatherers who are coconut farmers themselves. Using coconut and nipa palm as a source of ethanol has additional advantages considering their relative abundance in the province.
In 2010, the partners launched the First Coco-Nipa Ethanol Pilot Production Plant in Northern Samar. Trowel engaged the cooperation of the Provincial Government of Northern Samar and the Philippine Coconut Authority. The Department of Science and Technology provided financial assistance amounting to fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) to start the project. Through this amount, Gilbuela and Associates fabricated a boiler, a still unit, and a blower. The plant now processes coconut sap into coco-ethanol through distillation.
The partnership conducted a preliminary test before the launching of the project to determine the quality of the locally fabricated boiler and still units and to determine possible adjustments or modifications needed to prepare for the final and formal operational of the production plant. The preliminary test yielded encouraging and promising results.
The final test was conducted in April 2010. The ethanol produced was tested for cooking, blowtorch operation, and fuel blending (10%) in a 2-stroke engine. All tests undertaken during the activity showed encouraging and promising results, indicating the technical and economic viability of the project.
As a complement of the production of coco-ethanol, the project also designed and fabricated a cook stove with burner made out of recycled aluminum soda and beer cans which used coco-ethanol as fuel for cooking. Together with the 1-liter coco-ethanol, the cook stove costs US$7.00 apiece.