The Professor and Mary Ann would both be proud. Some researchers based out of Baylor University in Texas have found a way to make car parts out of the previously useless throwaway husks of coconuts. They’ve already made sample trunk liners, floorboards, and interior door panels using fibers from the husks of coconuts, replacing the synthetic polyester fibers that are usually used.
The husk is the stringy, fibrous part of the coconut that most of us grocery shoppers never see. When the husks dry, they crumble into fiber and coconut dust, aka piph. The scientists take those husk fibers and blend them with polypropylene to create a mix which can be hot-pressed (compression-molded) into any shape they need. Apparently, the coconut fiber creates a rigid, lightweight, stiff composite that doesn’t burn well or give off toxic fumes; perfect for auto parts.
Of course, coconut husks aren’t necessarily piling up in the streets of Detroit, but they are doing that very thing in many equatorial countries, sometimes to the point of being a hazard. In countries like Indonesia, Ghana, and India, husks are burned by the load, or thrown into piles where they collect water and create the perfect habitat for malaria-spreading mosquitoes. So this technology has a double benefit of finding a use for this garbage while also creating a more environmentally friendly product.
Equatorial coconut growing countries could become the next major automotive manufacturing spots, which would give coconut farmers a nice extra stream of revenue on top of the other benefits.
The university team is already working with a Texas-based fiber processing company that supplies fiber floor mats to four major automotive companies. They’re creating a 600-pound roll of the composite material for testing and production. Will that “new car smell” have a hint of coconut soon?