Kiribati | The Pacific way – turning coconuts into power. The case of Kiribati.

Aug 19, 2015

One of the benefits for the country in using coconut oil as found in a feasibility study completed in 2012 was saving costs for government and transport agencies. Photo credit: UNDP Fiji.

Coconut palms wave lazily yet happily at passers-by in the Central Pacific afternoon sun, providing a first insight into its own, century old, role in supporting the island lifestyle. Coconut trees have always been a part of life here on island. Not only do they provide nourishment and building material but they also play an important role in cultural and social events. Now, with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), coconuts are taking on a new role in the sustaining and progression of livelihoods in Kiribati. 

Kiribati, a small atoll nation spread across 33 coral atolls in the Pacific with a population of 102,351, has challenges in their fuel and energy supply. In order to solve this, UNDP and SPREP is supporting Kiribati in a new and innovative project which will utilise coconut oil as fuel. 

Within Kiribati, the copra industry contributes roughly a quarter of the country’s GDP.  With rising diesel prices, using natural, indigenous resource to lower CO2 emissions and also reduce the cost of power makes a lot of sense. The end goal of this project is to assist the Kiribati Government to replace fuel for generators that is today 100% fossil, with clean, locally produced coconut oil, starting with Abemama island.

 The biofuel project will construct a Biofuel Mill on Abemama Island that will produce CNO. Photo credit: Diane McFadzien.

A feasibility study on coconut as biofuel was completed in 2012.  The results from the study found that using coconut oil (CNO) benefitted the country by; (1) saving costs for government and transport agencies and (2) generating a local market and (3) is much more environmentally friendly than other forms of energy production. Based on these positive results, further funding was provided by the Government of Denmark for the creation of the full project which will enable Kiribati to utilise coconut oil as a fuel substitute. 

The biofuel project will construct a Biofuel Mill on Abemama Island that will produce CNO. There is currently no CNO production on the island, although the island does produce copra. The CNO produced is suggested used at three different sites around the island; Kauma High School, Chevalier College and the Island Council. 

At these sites the CNO will be blended with Diesel Oil Fuel (DFO), with the end goal is to have biofuel with 90% CNO/ 10%DFO. It has been estimated that at the target level of 90%CNO/10%DFO, only 1,980 litres of DFO would be used per year. At this production level, the volume of copra consumed (30-35 tons), will represent less than 4% of Abemama production. 

 Kiribati, a small atoll nation spread across 33 coral atolls in the Pacific with a population of 102,351, has challenges in their fuel and energy supply. Photo credit: Diane McFadzien.

South Astral of Australia has been contracted to complete the work on island. Currently the company is consolidating the necessary supplies and materials with the goal of shipping this out through Sydney during November and December. The first task will be to commence the construction of the building at the Island Council site. The building, plumbing and electrical work will be given to a local builder, with the aim of having this job completed by November. 

Immediately following this the engineer will travel to Abemama to install the expellers and generators. The goal will be to have the construction and installation aspects of the project completed by the end of the year. 

The local community is excited about the project, and so is Miriam Iakobwa, the project manager: “We look forward to reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels though production of biofuel from locally available resources. This will make a huge difference to not only the local communities but also the country as a whole.” 

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