Amongst the tropical jungles lies a deadly menace, patiently waiting for its moment to strike. Deadlier than the electric streams of light that strike our planet from brewing thunderstorms afar, and even deadlier than the frightening sea monsters with jaws of steel that occasionally swoop in on the shores of our warming ocean waters to devour unsuspecting victims. A menace that stands tall above the canopy, waging constant war with the surround crops for resources— sun rays and the dwindling supply of water. This tree is said to indiscriminately whack 150 people a year, showing no remorse for its actions and continuing its quest to multiply and safeguard the next generation. A tree that does more good than harm, as it provides millions of people with a healthy source of food, organic fertilizer, biomass, and natural roofing. These examples are but a few of the uses that can be derived from a tree that is considered to be moderately sustainable due to it growing resiliently without the use of pesticides or herbicides, a word of caution however when it comes to the mass cultivation of any flora. If left alone, these trees are self sufficient and manage to populate with ease.
Meat & Oil
Coconut flesh has long been a staple of many regional cuisines where coconut trees flourish. From India to Indonesia, the flesh can be found in traditional dishes in a wide variety of forms. It can be eaten raw, dried, and grated, but can also be used to produce coconut milk and oil. Naturally stacked with healthy fats, proteins & calories, a blessing that it is abundantly available in regions that do not fare as well economically. With 75% of the world’s coconut production coming from just 3 countries— India, Indonesia and the Philippines, these countries are in pole position to take advantage of the antioxidant rich flesh, but also to explore other alternative uses of this tree, such as the potential to produce fuel additives from its oil, animal feed from the byproduct of coconut oil production, organic fertilizer from the coir and heat from its carbon rich fruit casing. All uses that could reduce our carbon footprint and take us one step closer to a circular economy.
Husk & Shell
Having lived in India for a year now, I have always wondered why coconut vendors—present on every corner, of every street, of every city in India always asked to keep the shells and the husks. Although I theorized that these “leftovers” from drinking the refreshing and mineralizing water inside could potentially have some use, it never crossed my mind that they were in fact being fully utilized further down the supply chain, not a single morsel of the coconut going to waste. With a large percentage of the fruit being husk—more precisely 40%, it would be a waste to simply dispose of it. Considering that these parts of the coconut are chemically composed of cellulose, lignin, pyroligneous acid, gas, charcoal, tar, tannin and potassium, many different uses can suddenly spring to mind. This biomass is an attractive fuel and a cheaper source of charcoal for many in these countries who still cook outdoors over open flames. Looking at the bigger picture, the use of biomass as a rich, carbon-neutral renewable source for the development of bioenergy could address a wide range of societal needs. It currently stands as the third energy resource, apart from oil and coal, and could replace these non-renewable fuels. Coconuts and their “leftovers’’ are one biomass with enormous potential due to their availability worldwide, their ability to grow year around and adjustability to fluctuating temperatures. If used adequately, it could have the capability to efficiently harness energy and optimize waste recovery.
Other great uses for left over husks and shells is in the manufacturing of activated carbon for use in water filtration, even more importantly in wastewater treatment processes. We all know that this is of increasing importance in a world where fresh water supply is decreasing, and wastewater is exponentially growing. Just as this husk could play an important role in solving our wastewater problem, it is also a strong candidate to eradicating another growing challenge that we face. The husk and coir are a fibrous material that is resistant to bacteria, fungi and is exceptionally strong, a fantastic material to make rope from. Could this not be a biodegradable and planet friendly alternative to nylon netting polluting the ocean’s waters as we speak? More on that in our next post on the sustainability of fishing. Getting back to the point, it is safe to say that one man’s waste is another man’s fuel.
Let’s grab a coconut!
These posts are meant to provide a quick glimpse into the potential that is just around the corner for us as a society. They are meant to provide a glimmer of hope in this otherwise somber world. If only we could all work together to find innovative solutions to the challenges that we face on a daily basis. The tools and answers are out there, all it takes is willpower, combining our strengths, and focusing on the most important objective for humanity, our planets survival. If you would like a more in-depth analysis of coconuts, coconut trees and their uses, there are a vast number of studies published by people smarter than me who investigate for a living, would strongly recommend in checking them out. I leave you with one study titled “Exploring the potential of coconut shell biomass for charcoal production” which provides a fantastic analysis on the advantages and disadvantages of exploring the “leftovers” of our coconut waters, oils, and creams. Generation Clean!