Creating Technology to Convert Renewable Resources into Value-Added Products: The Case of the Coconut

Walter Bradley, Baylor University

Friday, October 1, 2010

This seminar is part of the Jones Seminars on Science, Technology, and Society series

One approach to economic development in under-developed countries is to identify an abundant, renewable resource that is under-utilized and owned or can be grown primarily by poor people and create new technology that gives enhanced value to this resource. In this presentation, the case of the coconut will be used to illustrate the enormous possibilities for economic development that can result from the application of this paradigm. Over 50 billion coconuts are grown each year in a band of +- 20 degrees of the equator, a band in which every country (except Singapore) has an abundance of coconuts and subsistence farmers. The primary commercial use of the coconut is for oil, with the rest of the constituent parts of the coconut having little or no value. The burning of this waste in fact is an environmental hazard. The interesting and unusual physical properties of the constituent parts of the coconut have been determined and large volume applications that can benefit from these unique properties have been identified. Actual market opportunities will be presented with indications of the total potential in each area. The strategy for allowing this newly created value for the constituent parts to benefit the villages where they are grow will also be presented. Additional examples will be presented more briefly dealing with building foot bridges and low-cost housing.

About the Speaker

Walter Bradley received his B.S. in Engineering Science and his Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Texas in Austin. He taught for 8 years at the Colorado School of Mines as Assistant and Associate Professor of Metallurgical Engineering, for 24 years as a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU), and most recently for 8 years at Baylor University as a Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering. During his 24 years at Texas A&M University, Dr. Bradley served as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University (1500 students and 65 professors) and as Director of the Polymer Technology Center, and received five College of Engineering Research Awards. He has received over $6,500,000 in research grants and has published over 150 technical articles and book chapters. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Materials and of the American Scientific Affiliation and serves as a consultant for many Fortune 500 companies. Since coming to Baylor University, he has focused his research efforts on helping the poorest people in under developed parts of the world to help them by developing appropriate technologies to improve their quality of life and increase their economic opportunities. For example, he is developing various means to convert the constituent parts of coconuts into value-added products such as diesel fuel, particle board, and reinforcement for engineering plastics.