Science

Cocopalm in the wall

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The Philippine Coconut Authority reported in 2009 that of the 12 million hectares of farmland, 3.1 million ha. is devoted to coconut widely spread in 68 provinces throughout the country. It went on to say that the Philippines has more than 300 million bearing and non-bearing coconut trees with a workforce of 3.5 million coconut famers, and about 25 million Filipinos directly or indirectly dependent to coconut industry.

The coconut has been dubbed as the “tree of life” because it serves humanity with 100 and one uses down from its roots and up to its leaves. In fact, a researcher from Zamboanga del Norte found that fronds of coconut trees can be used for making plywood and panel. In his project entitled “Producing Abundant Plywood/Ply Board Without Cutting Precious Trees”, Engr. Noel Vista Beira said that plywoods are primarily wood-based, which endanger the Philippine forests.

“With the discovery of “Cocopalm Plywood/Plyboard” precious trees can be spared and conserved to our national advantage,” Engr. Beira explained. He noted that there is still no known high value utilization of coconut frond except for firewood and fencing materials.

Engr. Beira thus describes his research product: “Cocopalm Plywood is at least a double-ply plywood fabricated out of dried (natural or induced) coconut palms. To assemble the standard size of two feet wide by four feet long by one-fourth inch thick would require 15 to 20 palms (depending upon the sizes of the palms).

The study assumed that an average of 100 trees per hectare, and a conservative harvest of one palm/tree/month would give an estimated harvest of 3.6 billion palm per year. When utilized to maximum, this volume can be converted and manufactured into 225 million pieces of “cocopalm plywood” of the standard size or an equivalence of 162 million square meter of panelling materials yearly.

To illustrate Engr. Beira cited the nationwide annual housing need of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) at the time of the study at 633,726 units. He said that if these are low-cost housing units, the typical floor area is 36 square meters per unit. The usual practice of using the 4’ x 8’ x 1/4’ would translate to an annual need of 7,921,575 pieces of plywood.

Results showed that semi-manual manufacturing can be used to convert coconut fronds to plywood/plyboard, and some other processes in standard plywood processing. The researcher said that a special machine can be fabricated in splitting fronds into veneer strips.

This development according to the researcher can encourage wood-based plywood manufacturers to save by 50% their log or timber requirement thru the use of cocopalm plywood as inner ply.

“The implication then would be, first, half of the trees being cut to produce plywood can be saved and conserved. Secondly, since coconut palms are cheaper than logs in terms of the cost per volume and acquisition, the cost of plywood can be reduced to benefit the consumers. Project cost here was P25/plywood (2’ x4’),” Engr. Beira added.

He said the coconut farmers, as the source of raw materials, hold an important key in making the “cocopalm plywood” economically viable by maintaining and sustaining reasonable fronds price. Engr. Beira said that farmers would have a potential annual income of P1.8 billion at the selling price of P0.50/frond.

However, Engr. Beira recommended that more research should be done in the management of harvesting, handling and drying of coconut fronds because it is critical in the mass production, quality and cost of the “cocopalm plywood”. He also suggested for the identification and introduction of certain coconut varieties which have maximum frond production, including thickness and width.

“The coconut tree is practically a permanent crop, and can be a renewable source of raw material for “cocopalm plywood” production. The dwindling source of wood-based plywood, and the concern for environment lead us to look for other sources. Since coconut frond is a renewable raw material resource, a “cocopalm plywood” manufacturer can enjoy a steady price than its competitors,” Engr. Beira concluded. (PSciJourn/Vicky B. Bartilet)

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