Baylor Researchers Create Car Parts From Coconuts

Dec. 9, 2008

A team of Baylor University researchers who have identified a variety of low-cost products that can be manufactured from coconuts in poor coastal regions have now developed a way to use coconut husks in automotive interiors.

The Baylor researchers are developing a technology to use coconut fiber as a replacement for synthetic polyester fibers in compression molded composites. Specifically, their goal is to use the coconut fibers to make trunk liners, floorboards and interior door covers on cars, marking the first time coconut fibers have been used in these applications.

Since coconuts are an abundant, renewable resource in all countries near the equator, Baylor's team is working to create multiple products that could be manufactured from coconuts in those regions using simple and inexpensive technology. With an estimated 11 million coconut farmers in the world making an average annual income of $500, the Baylor researchers hope to triple the coconut farmer's annual income by increasing the market price for each coconut to 30 cents, which could have a substantial effect on the farmer's quality of life.

"What we hope to do is create a viable market for the poor coconut farmer," said Dr. Walter Bradley, Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor, who is leading the project. "Our goal is to create millions of pounds of demand at a much better price."

The Baylor researchers said the mechanical properties of coconut fibers are just as good, if not better, than synthetic and polyester fibers when using them in automotive parts. Bradley said the coconut fibers are less expensive than other fibers and better for the environment because the coconut husks would have otherwise been thrown away. Coconuts also do not burn very well or give off toxic fumes, which is crucial in passing tests required for actual application in commercial automotive parts.

Bradley said they working closely with Hobbs Bonded Fibers, a Waco-based fiber processing company that is a supplier of unwoven fiber mats to four major automotive companies.

The Baylor researchers are now putting the automotive parts that use coconut fiber through a series of certification tests to see if the fiber meets the necessary safety performance specifications.

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