Valorization of coconut wood from senile palms

To generate an economic driver for coconut estate owners to replace their senile stems, ACIAR has funded two recent research projects aiming to better valorise coconut wood. 

The ACIAR funded Cocowood Project, FST/2004/054, analysed the properties of coconut wood and processing technologies to investigate whether the harvest of this product could provide one solution to waning global timber resources. This project was successful providing knowledge on the coconut stems properties, identifying appropriate solid wood processing protocols and developing a range of products. However, there were limitations in the production process of coconut wood with an average recovery of 30-35% of log volume in viable wood product. Due to the low return, a new use for the coconut stems was proposed – coconut veneer and veneer-based products. These products would be produced through the rotary peeling of the coconut stems rather than saw milling, with a significant increase in recovery to 60-65% of log volume. 

The CocoVeneer project FST/2009/062 aimed to develop the technologies, processes and expertise to produce veneer and veneer-based products from senile coconut stems in three partner countries: Fiji, Samoa and Solomon Islands. The use of residues for by-products such as soil conditioning products was also investigated. 
To achieve its aim, the project developed new knowledge and processes critical to establishing the technology that underpins for a sustainable coconut veneering industry. In doing so, it determined that: 
  • High-density senile coconut logs can be reliably peeled into quality veneer using available spindle-less lathe techniques. 68% of the veneer recovered during trials had a density of 500 kg/m3 or more. However, appropriate machine settings and log preconditioning are required. Once peeled, the veneer can be dried and handled using standard industry equipment. 
  • The veneer produced differs from traditional wood veneers in that its minimum production thickness is 2 mm and its surface has a natural roughness that requires careful gluing and moderate sanding. 
  • The veneer produced can be used for a range of architectural and structural products. Optimum utility and value is likely to be achieved by exploiting coconut veneer’s colour, visual characteristics and hardness in architectural application. This requires quality production, batching the recovered veneer by colour and density, and grading it to a market-aligned standard. 
  • Coconut veneer can be reliably glued into structural plywood and LVL products but relatively low MoE and shear values mean that lighter competitor wood products provide superior performance. Viable structural products may result from blending coconut veneer with material from other forest resources 
  • A robust by-products suite is needed to use the significant quantities of residue generated on the harvest sites and at processing facilities. Coconut residues as fuel and as a base resource in community-scale composting appear to be cost effective and practical options. The use of coconut wood chips as a base for mushroom or plant growing mediums was largely unsuccessful. Trials with coconut wood biochar were inconclusive. 
  • Economic modelling of the coconut veneer value chain indicates that it is likely to be financially attractive for existing veneer producers and potentially additional small-scale processors to develop a viable coconut veneer industry. 
  • Fragmented community ownership of many coconut estates presents a risk to regular log supply and may be a significant impediment to establishing a coconut veneer value chain. Extension tools in estate planning and harvesting were developed to help address this risk. 

A series of high quality technical reports detailing the methodologies and outcomes of each research area were produced along with important supporting outputs, including: a coconut estate renewal planning model and process; guidelines for the harvesting of coconut palms; and a financial business model for five options for coconut veneer production facilities based on Pacific Island conditions and data. These outputs should assist with the adoption of the outcomes by senile coconut resource owners and wood processors. All of these reports and resources are available at 

The project sought to establish independent research capacity in veneer-based product manufacture. A rotary veneer processing equipment suite was established at the TUD facility in Suva, Fiji, and key staff were trained in its operation. This facility can be the base for future work on coconut and other small diameter wood resources in the region. The Crawford Fund also supported training in Brisbane, Australia, and education online. 

Additional work to improve outcomes for any developing coconut veneer industry and the coconut production sector include: extension support to assist industry tune their equipment and processes to reliably peel senile coconut stems into high-quality veneer and assemble it into products; research into solid wood applications for the upper log in the coconut stem; larger-scale controlled trials of composting coconut residues, and a comprehensive value-chain study. Lastly, more effective project development and management practices are probably needed for projects working across supply sectors and support networks. 

To know more: 

Nolan, G. (2016). Development of advanced veneer and other products from coconut wood to enhance livelihoods in South Pacific communities. In The 47th APCC COCOTECH Conference 2016.

Nolan, G., & McGavin, R. (2016). ACIAR CocoVeneer Objective 1.1: Market assessment and product development.
Blackburn, D., & Nolan, G. (2016). ACIAR CocoVeneer Objective 2: Guidelines for harvesting coconut palms in South Pacific island countries.

Nolan, G., & Blackburn, D. (2016). ACIAR CocoVeneer Objective 2: Guide to community development of estate coconut renewal plans in South Pacific island countries.