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Papua New Guinea: Coconut Oil
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Papua New Guinea: Coconut Oil
It's cheap, in plentiful supply, doesn't destroy the ozone layer, and smells great. The people of Bougainville have found their own solution to the energy crisis: it's the humble coconut tree. Reporter Steve Marshall met up with German emigrant Matthias Horn who established a "coconut refinery" several years ago, and now produces an oil that can replace diesel.
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Segment 1

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Coconut Oil
STEVE MARSHALL [Reporter]
It's a tough life for the residents of Buka and other parts of Bougainville. The autonomous region is still recovering from a decade-long civil war that ended in the late 1990s. It's day to day living here and the people rely heavily on imports, especially fuel. It's expensive, and it's not uncommon for vehicles and generators to run dry before a new shipment arrives. But there's something going on in this place that's taking the "ouch" out of the oil price. In fact it's such a slick idea it's got the locals turning their backs on the imported stuff. Around here, money might not grow on trees, but the next best thing does. Forget drilling and start picking. Around here, oil comes from above. What usually slips down the gullet is now being tipped into the tank.
MATTHIAS HORN [Oil Producer]
So here we got the raw material, that's the copra, and it goes into the primary crusher. It just makes it easier to feed through the secondary crusher which then expels the oil and then it comes flowing out, right out of these gaps here.
STEVE MARSHALL
From Betzdorf in Germany to Buka in Papua New Guinea. Matthias Horn just loves coconuts.
MATTHIAS HORN
And then right into the feeder presses here, which take all the bits and pieces out of the oil, and then into this holding tank system here, which are settling the oil for any other sediment. And after two weeks' time we can use it straight away in our cars.
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Style Oil Factory
MATTHIAS HORN
They sometimes refer to me as the mad German because how can you do that to your car, filling it with some coconut juice which you normally fry your fish in.
STEVE MARSHALL
In this shed in the middle of the Bougainville jungle, coconuts are squeezed and strained with such a force that engines don't know the difference between pure coconut oil and diesel.
MATTHIAS HORN
The coconut tree is a beautiful tree. It's like, doesn't it sound good if you really run your car on something which falls off a tree, and that's the good thing about it. You run your car, and it smells nice, and it's environmentally friendly. And that's the good thing.
STEVE MARSHALL
Matthias Horn and his wife Carol have spent the past three years extracting oil from locally grown coconuts to use in engines. The idea is not new.
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Powered by Coconut
STEVE MARSHALL
Locals tried the same thing during the war with limited success. It's only now the concept of putting coconut oil in the tank instead of diesel is gaining momentum on Bougainville. It's much cheaper and it's a sustainable resource. The number of cars, trucks, and tractors, and other engines running on the stuff is on the rise.
KEVIN RIORDAN
Give us your best coconut, and fill her up. She'll probably only take 25.
STEVE MARSHALL
New Zealand policeman Kevin Riordan is assisting the Bougainville force. His fuel bill has dropped by a third since switching to coconut oil.
KEVIN RIORDAN [Policeman]
There's no difference in the performance. You don't have to do anything different than you do to a diesel engine. You just, you know, fill it up with coconut oil instead of diesel. And as you can see it's smooth. I'm in fourth gear, and can take it up to 100 K [kilometers per hour], no problem at all.
STEVE MARSHALL
For the people of Bougainville it's a godsend. Well, Father Henry Saris thinks so anyway.
FATHER HENRY SARIS
It comes from on top, yes. Everything, all the blessings come from on top, but the coconut really is the tree of life here. As long as you have coconuts, you will survive.
STEVE MARSHALL
Father Saris converted to coconut oil three years ago and won't hear a bad word against it. And what about on a Sunday morning, if you're running late for a service: can you put your foot down and it gets you there on time?
FATHER HENRY SARIS
It doesn't make any difference. I've had people in my car here who didn't even realize that the car was running on coconut oil.
STEVE MARSHALL
But you'd notice the difference in the Northern Hemisphere, or in a cooler climate, because the car simply wouldn't go. Pure coconut oil solidifies at a certain temperature. Here in Buka the oil freezes at around 25 degrees [Celsius, or 77 Fahrenheit]. Once the temperature dips below that, such as in the higher reaches of Bougainville, then other fossil fuels like diesel need to be added to make the engine run. The colder the climate, the bigger the mix of diesel. Still, Matthias and Carol Horn hope the clear, sweet aroma of coconuts will one day replace the black, oily smoke of diesel fumes.
CAROL HORN [Oil Producer]
We have an export license but we haven't exported any fuel as yet. We've had a couple of inquires from outside: Australia, even Iran.
STEVE MARSHALL
Iran?
CAROL HORN
Yes, Iran. A couple of emails from Iran inquiring about the fuel. So I was wondering what they would like to do with the fuel because they already have enough fuel.
STEVE MARSHALL
Carol and Matthias Horn say they're in it for the long haul. The daily two-hour drive to the factory gives Matthias Horn ample time to dream up ways of making coconut fuel a viable option worldwide.
MATTHIAS HORN
That's when all these thoughts get developed, and then I pull out the calculator and the piece of paper, and I put these thoughts on to paper. And then you have a beer over it and you have another beer over it and after three beers you get really good ideas. Then you keep on going: not drinking the beer but the idea develops.
STEVE MARSHALL
And there'll be no selling out to major oil companies either. The Horn factory is providing many jobs for people affected by the war.
CAROL HORN
It's very important that we come up with more revenue-raising options and the fuel is an example; instead of spending money outside getting in fuel we try to make it here.
STEVE MARSHALL
Coconut oil might just be the tonic to kick-start Bougainville's economy and get the region moving forward once again.
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Powered by Coconut
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[end credits]