Coconut - other uses

From fibres and fuels to oils and soil fertilisers, coconuts are finding their way into a huge range of modern day products.

Oil

Coconut oil extracted from the copra is a source of lauric acid which can be made into a soap called sodium laurate. This is used to make liquid and bar soaps, washing powders, cosmetics, shampoos, paints and varnishes.

Agricultural uses

In India, coconut palms are planted on the borders of farmland and fields to mark out boundaries. They are also planted within fields of other crops to provide shade for ground crops. Dust remaining after coir production is used mixed into agricultural soil to help it retain its moisture content.

Coir

A photograph of a bundle of coconut fibre from Kew's Economic Botany Collection.
Image: Although the term 'coir' strictly means the twisted coconut husk fibre, the raw fibre itself is now universally known as coir too.

Coir itself can also be made into mulch and compressed into little briquettes for pot plants as an environmentally friendly alternative to peat. It is exported from India to the UK where gardeners know it as 'Coco Peat'.

Industrially, coir may have a future in car manufacture, where it can be rubberised and used to make car seats. Coconut shell flour can be used as a filler for plastics. Coconut shells can also be turned into activated charcoal by first making charcoal by heating chunks of the shell at high temperatures without oxygen. The coconut charcoal is then treated with oxygen which opens up millions of tiny pores between carbon atoms. This is called activated charcoal which has unusual qualities of being able to absorb large amounts of impurities from gases and liquids. It is used to make filters for gas masks.

Coir briquettes and coconut shells are both used as fuels in India. Coir is often used to help fire copra kilns in India, while coconut shells are made into charcoal.