May 7, 2007 / 6:43 AM / 10 years ago

Fill it up with coconuts: Solomons gets green fuel

<p>A Filipino worker inspects coconuts before at a plantation in Quezon province, south of Manila in this August 11, 2004 file photo. An Australian entrepreneur based in the Solomons Islands is producing fuel and profits from the fruit he sells locally for 70 U.S. cents a liter, slightly less than the price of regular fuel.Romeo Ranoco</p>

HONIARA (Reuters Life!) - Who needs crude oil when you've got cheap coconuts?

An Australian entrepreneur based in the Solomons Islands is producing fuel and profits from the fruit he sells locally for 70 U.S. cents a liter, slightly less than the price of regular fuel.

John Wolrath, who owns Solomon Tropical Products, moved to the tropical islands 12 years ago and opened six saw mills. But political instability forced him to shut up shop and search for other opportunities.

"There were all these coconuts not being utilized, there was no coconuts being picked up at all," he said.

"They were just going to rot under the tree. And then I heard about coconut oil. So I decided to buy a small coconut mill that would do about a thousand liters of oil in a 24-hour period. And I'm going to make my fortune out of this small mill."

Wolrath's coconut fuel pumps are always busy with customers attracted by cheaper prices and the environmental plus.

The Solomons, once a British protectorate, has about 500,000 people scattered across a string of 992 small islands in the Pacific. Most Solomon Islanders live on agriculture and fishing.

The Solomons spends millions of dollars a year importing diesel and other fuels. The 20-member South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) says Pacific island states spend more than $800 million a year on fuel imports.

A SOPAC report said if these countries were to replace 50 percent of diesel imports with coconut oil then the region's average import bill would be cut by 10 percent.

Coconut oil can directly substitute diesel or be blended with it to create a less polluting biofuel. The Philippines, the world's largest coconut oil exporter, this week introduced a one percent coconut blend diesel.

Governments around the world are mandating biofuel use to improve domestic energy security and cut greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, though most biofuels come from other sources such as sugar cane, corn or palm oil.

Lacking capital to expand his business, Wolrath has appealed to aid organizations to help. So far, he has not received any, but aims to continue producing his environmentally-friendly fuel.

"If the aid donors get behind it, we could be producing 10 tonnes a day of eco-friendly coconut, or coco bio-diesel, which is 100 percent green," he said.

Australia is spending about $700 million to maintain peace in the Solomons after the nation came close to collapse due to violence and mismanagement. A tsunami hit the islands in April.

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