Is a Coconut Car Coming Your Way?

Meanwhile, members of his team are conducting experiments to see what else they can wring out of the coconut. The outer shell is extremely tough, and it is "five times harder than the hardest hardwood," Bradley said. He's pretty excited about some possible applications there, but he said it's too early to talk about it.

Biofuel was an obvious early target, since coconut can be used as a direct substitute for diesel. But it takes 35 coconuts to make a gallon of coconut oil, so it's not economically feasible.

In addition to the fibers, the husk also contains dust, called pith, that could replace particle board in furniture and housing construction. Some particle board now in use contains chemicals that can be irritating to people with certain allergies.

The Baylor project isn't limited to the engineering department. Students in some classes are writing business plans tailored to six countries where coconuts are grown.

"I don't have to motivate them at all," Bradley said. "They aren't doing it just for credit. They understand that if they are successful in what they are doing they could impact the lives of a large number of people."

No Goal to 'Become Coconut Kings'

"This is not a hypothetical project," said Bradley.

The team is also working with companies and educators in the Philippines, and success will depend largely on how vigorously they pursue the project. Bradley has no intention to move there.

"Our goal is not to start an international conglomerate and become coconut kings," he said. "Our goal is to help a lot of villages get the maximum income from their coconuts."

That will require making the most out of every part of the coconut, from the pith to the meat. Automotive designers may not look to the drab coconut for artistic inspiration, however. Floor mats would be fine.

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