Wednesday, November 7, 2007



Buka vehicles run on coconut oil

Samisoni Pareti
Matthias Horn runs his white Daihatsu pick-up on coconut oil, 100% of
it. As well as his two big tip trucks, he can't wait to use it on his
Caterpillar machine once the warranty on it expires.

In addition, all the vehicles belonging to the United Nations
Development Programme, the New Zealand Police, the Law and Justice
capacity programme, the AusAID-funded Road Construction consultants and
the European Union's Vocational Planning office carry the 'powered by
coconut' label.

The priest at the local Catholic mission also tanks up his four-wheel
drive on coco-fuel produced by Horn's refinery.

If you miss the 'powered by coconut' display near each of the vehicle's
fuel tanks, you can easily pick them out by the fact that coco-fuel
powered machines do not emit smoke.

"That's the wonder of coco-fuel, it's 100% biodegradable, it's
environmentally friendly," says Horn. It was way past mid-day at his
home on a Sunday and the man and his wife Carol were glued to their
favourite satellite TV channel, the BBC.

That September 30th day, the UK broadcaster was airing its annual World
Forum debate and the Horns were all ears.

It was exactly this appetite for information, perhaps newer knowledge
that got this German immigrant to start experimenting with coco-fuel.

"I did months and months of research on the subject," Horn says.

"I did a lot of reading on plant and vegetable oil. I looked into how to
produce cosmetic oil, the technology of canola oil and soap.

"Only then did I place orders for my machines in September 2003. They
arrived in December 2003 and I started my refinery in January 2004."

Three years later, Buka Metal Fabricators refinery is producing up to
10,000 to 15,000 litres of coconut oil per month.

Horn says for every 10 tonnes of copra (dried or smoked coconut flesh),
he makes 5000 litres of oil. So he buys 20 to 30 tonnes of copra every

"When we started in 2003, the price of copra was at K200 per tonne.

"But we were buying our copra for K500 per tonne.

"Today, the price is hovering at around K800 to K820 per tonne.

"We are buying ours at K750 per tonne but our producers are still better
off because we don't charge the extra K200 for transport and copra bags."

So for every tonne of copra they buy, the Horns are putting cash
straight into the hands of the local villagers that sell to them.

In addition, they are able to make some savings both in their cash flows
and in terms of the environment.

"For each of my tip truck for example, I make a saving of K3500 each month.

"That's a huge bonus given that I still have to pay K5000 to the bank as

In late September and early October 2007, Horn's coco-fuel pump price
was K2.50 a litre.
Diesel in Buka was retailing at K3.50 a litre in the same period.

If coco-fuel is cheap and easily available from the Horns' refinery, why
then are vehicle owners in Buka and indeed Papua New Guinea still
dependent on fossil fuel?

"It's really the fear of the unknown," says Horn.

"They sometimes call me the mad German because I'm using coconut oil on
all my vehicles.

"But I think in the last three years, we have proven that coco-fuel is
the better alternative, and that it works."

As it is, all 'powered by coconut' vehicles on Buka do so on 100%
coco-fuel with hardly any adjustments to the engine.

Horn says the key is in the engine's injection system.

If it has an indirect injection, common in 4x4 Hilux, Land Cruiser,
Nissan Nivara vehicles, then coco-fuel can be used with no adjustments.

"For those with the direct injection system, we do make some slight
adjustments in that we divert the oil back into engine circulation after
use, and not allow it to return to the tank.

"This way the coco-fuel flows well in the engine and it doesn't clog up."

He acknowledges oil clog has been one of his biggest challenges because
coconut oil, by its very nature, is heavy oil.

One option therefore would be to pre-heat the oil to ensure it flows
freely when in use.

Horn says a vehicle trader in Vanuatu informs him that he uses 10% of
kerosene in coco-fuel to help in oil flow in vehicles with direct
injectors. A concern too has been the arrival in the market of vehicles
with a new fuel injection system. Mechanics refer to the new system as
the 5th element.

Fuel injectors of these vehicles are more sophisticated which Horn says
cost up to K5000 to modify to be vegetable oil compatible. He does
wonders whether such a system has been introduced to counter the work of
people like him who are proving that vegetable oil like coco-fuel may be
a better alternative to fossil fuel.

But unless diesel and petrol prices take a nose dive, the prospect of
more people turning to the work of Horn and others will continue.

At this stage, Horn has reached the point where he needs a bigger
partner to take his coconut oil refinery up another level.

He hopes PNG Power or PNG Sustainable will agree to come on board and
run coco-fuel on a greater scale.

"May be they can allow one of their generators to run on coco-fuel for a
year and at the end of it, they can make their own comparisons.

"I tell you they will be amazed with the results."

Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts:

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