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By Joy A. Rikimae

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, April 4) – Negotiations for a bio-diesel pilot project are currently underway between the Solomon Islands government, Solomon Islands Electricity Authority, and a local private firm.

Solomons Tropical Products, the current producer of coconut oil products, is to carry out the bio-diesel trial.

The trial would be on a blend of coconut oil with chemicals to make bio-diesel.

Technically it is called a "B20 mix," which could be used to run engines.

Permanent Secretary of the Department of Mines and Energy, Don Tolia told the Solomon Star in an interview that the government had already drafted a Memorandum of Understanding.

However, he said the three parties have to reach some sort of agreement before signing it.

Mr. Tolia said the aim of the trial was to encourage the use of natural renewable energy.

"If the trial looks encouraging and cheap, then it could be encouraged," Mr. Tolia said.

He said the deal was for Solomon Tropical Products to use its coconut oil for the blending.

However, for that to happen it would have to get a permit from Solomon Islands Electricity Authority in order to run its generator on Solomon Islands Electricity Authority power, Mr. Tolia stated.

According to the Electricity Act, only Solomon Islands Electricity Authority must produce power, therefore, anyone wanting to produce electricity above a certain amount would have to seek permission from Solomon Islands Electricity Authority.

Managing Director of Solomon Tropical Products John Vollrath said the Government had asked him to run the trial three months ago and they are still waiting on Solomon Islands Electricity Authority to agree on the Memorandum of Understanding.

Mr. Vollrath claimed Solomon Tropical Products is the only local company producing coconut products.

Mr. Vollrath said the reason for the trial is to do a comprehensive study on the viability of using coconut oil for diesel generators so the country can run on bio-diesel electrification.

"The Mines and Energy department asked for the trial because what they are looking at it to put bio-diesel to the outer Islands to reduce the cost of electrifying those provinces."

Mr. Vollrath said the alternative could save the country thousands of dollars as well as Solomon Islands Electricity Authority if it is successful.

"The trial is aimed at getting the economics between normal fossil fuel diesel and coconut oil blend."

He added that Solomon Islands Electricity Authority did a trial three years ago but required another trial because the most significant part of the trial is the conclusion.

"The trial Solomon Islands Electricity Authority did, failed, so they did not have a conclusion on it that is why we require another trail," said Mr. Vollrath.

He said his company is producing 800 liters of B20 bio-diesel from the 12 thousand liters of coconut oil they extract a day.

The company is selling that portion of B20 blend to whoever wanted to use it on their vehicles.

"About 14 vehicles are now running on that blend in Honiara and one local company is running all its vehicles on that blend for almost three years now."

From Vollrath’s calculations, bio-diesel can cost two times less the amount of fossil fuel diesel, which is good for all stakeholders.

Mr. Vollrath explained he is interested in helping the government because he wanted Solomon Islands to be a better place.

Mr. Vollrath has been in the country for 11 years.

The trial will start as soon as the Memorandum of Understanding is signed and it will go on for a period of three months.

Meanwhile, General Manager of Solomon Islands Electricity Authority Mike Nation said the idea of the trial is interesting; however, it is the decision of the board to permit the local company Solomon Tropical Products to run the trial.

Mr. Nation said according to the Electricity Act, every generator would have to be licensed by Solomon Islands Electricity Authority and the cost of licensing depends on the size of a generator.

"The bigger the generator, the bigger the cost of licensing."

Solomon Islands Electricity Authority board will meet this month to make a decision on the Memorandum of Understanding.

April 5, 2006

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