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close this bookCERES No. 114 (FAO Ceres, 1986, 50 p.)
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Versatile palm adds diesel fuel to product range

The truck driver of the Centre for Research and Development (CEPED) of Bahia, stationed his vehicle at noon near a restaurant near the highway to have lunch. When the waiter took his order for a traditional Bahian fish dish, he realized that the oil that propelled his enormous diesel truck was the same (although, evidently, in a different form) as the oil on his plate: it was oil of denda kind of Brazilian palm. His perplexity would have been even greater if he had known that the same oil was also used to temper steel, like that used in his truck, and had been used in the manufacture of the soap with which he had just washed his hands.

Rudolph Diesel, however, would not have been surprised like our Bahian truck driver, since as long ago as 1900 an engine that ran on groundnut oil was exhibited at the Paris Exposition. Nevertheless, the enormous possibilities of vegetable oils were ignored during the years of cheap energy from fossil fuels - until the recent petroleum crisis revived interest in alternative sources of energy. The CEPED truck was an experimental part of a pilot
development project in progress in Bahia to study and evaluate the potential uses of palm oil as diesel fuel.

From the fruit of the dendt is possible to extract two types of oil: from the pulp and from the kernel. And those oils have enormous application in the food industry (at table and for cooking, or in the manufacture of sails, glycerine, detergents, and, finally, fuels. In Brazil there are four types of dendalm: one native (Melanoccaca), two introduced into Bahia from Africa (Dura and Deli dura), and one imported from Malaysia (Tenera) and widely diffused throughout many Brazilian states. It is estimated that more than 77 million hectares in the country could be planted to dend74 million in the Amazon basin alone.

The rural entrepreneurs of the south of Bahia, Para, Amapa and Amazonas, where the total demand predicted for 1987/88 is 6 million hybrid seeds of good quality to extend the area planted to palm, have for some time been showing interest in this crop. Motivated by their interest, as much as by the government's, in the real possibilities of this oil, FAO sponsored in 1984 in Brazil a regional roundtable on the processing of palm oil in small and medium industries. It was the third meeting in a series begun in Peru in 1980, when 12 countries (including Brazil) established a network for Technical Cooperation in Dendil, sponsored by the FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean. The technical cooperation networks are flexible mechanisms aimed at exchange of experiences and practical knowledge between the institutions of member countries.

In July 1985 an FAO specialist in palm processing, Michael Hadcock, arrived at Castanhal, a hundred kilometres from Bel(Para) to carry out a project consisting essentially in the adaptation of small machinery and in the training of personnel, in a programme of support for development of the processing of palm oil on a small and medium scale.

The project joined another 15 already operating in the area, also with international help. Such is the case of the work carried out in the Amazon area by EMBRAPA, with the collaboration of the French Institut de Recherche pour les Huiles et les Olineux, which gives guidance to local business and large cooperatives for optimizing the cultivation and industrialization of dendHadcock's work, in collaboration with a cooperative, Cooperativa Agrla Mixta Amaza (COOPAMA), is aimed, specifically, at the small producers to permit them to work with equipment that is suitable, small, adequate for their economic possibilities, thus producing, themselves, the oil from their plantations. Brazil has, for more than ten years, been manufacturing equipment capable of extracting up to 30 000 kg of fruit per hour. The objective of the project mentioned was to stimulate the industry so that it would produce small equipment, from 0.25 to 1.5 tons per hour, efficient, cheap, and easy to handle, thus freeing the producers of limited income from becoming merely collectors of fruit.

Michael Hadcock's mission to Brazil had two phases. The second phase, which lasted half a year, was completed at the end of 1985. In that period he worked with Brazilian technicians from the Ministry of Agriculture, emphasizing the technical and educational aspects of the problem. With the cooperation of COOPAMA (in space, facilities, manpower, and raw materials), he built a pilot micro-plant, with machines and tools manufactured, modified or simplified in two metallurgical factories at Castanhal, under the guidance of the FAO expert and his Brazilian colleagues, notably the mechanical engineer Paulo Tolini. Besides designing new machines and adapting other traditional equipment to local conditions, the project trained technicians, professionals and local producers for the construction, operation and maintenance of the new machines, including guillotines, pitters, digesters, clarifiers, and presses.

The problem of small and medium producers of dendas important social and economic aspects, since they cultivate (or at least harvest) a very large part of the fruits that reach the industry. In the Amazon region alone, it is estimated that the next harvest will yield $12 million but the share received by small and medium producers is very small. When they are technically and financially able to process their own harvests, they will be able to contribute to increasing production of oil, as well as improve their standard of living.

Claudio Fornari