For many of us our early morning coffee is an energy boost to help power us through the day. Now it is being seen as a possible alternative energy source, fuel for vehicles.
The waste coffee grounds hold an oil, similar to corn and soybean oil.
These oils have in the past been extremely expensive to extract. However, researchers at Lancaster University have recently been exploring this process with an eye to making it cheaper and easier to do. Their new and improved method does not use harmful, stripping chemicals, adding to its eco-friendly appeal and only takes about 10 minutes.
In fact, Lancaster University’s researchers estimate an additional 720,000 metric tons of bio-diesel fuel could be produced with this coffee-bean extraction method.
In the capital, London’s caffeine habit could soon provide an eco-friendly energy kick to its buses, including its iconic red double-decker.
In June 2017, some six thousand litres of oil extracted from ground coffee waste was added to fuel tanks of the city’s transport authority— enough to power a bus for a whole year.
Behind that awareness-raising stunt was Bio-bean, a British start-up which has been developing fuel from coffee waste grounds for four years with financial and technical help from energy giant Royal Dutch Shell.
Londoners consume an average of 2.3 cups of coffee a day, contributing to 200,000 tons of mineral-rich coffee waste over the course of a year, according to data cited by Bio-bean.
“Instead of sending a ton of waste coffee grounds to landfill where it degrades and releases methane and CO2, we collect it, recycle it and turn it into a renewable fuel which is then used to replace further conventional fuels — so it’s a double saving,” Bio-bean founder Arthur Kay told AFP at a recent presentation.
The company, which specialises in green energy, collects the unwanted coffee grounds from coffee shops and processes them at it’s factory in Cambridgeshire. Once the oil is extracted it is sent to the UK’s largest biofuel producer, Argent Energy, where it is topped up with a range of animal or vegetable fuels. The resulting final mix is made up of 80% traditional diesel and 20% biofuel.
If traditional fuel is replaced with this mixture, say Biobean, then carbon emissions from bus journeys could be reduced by 10 to 15%.
Statistics show that in London alone, people make more than 2 billion bus trips a year on a 9,300-strong bus fleet. However, only 2000 of these vehicles are using alternative energy in the form of diesel-electric.
The coffee-enhanced mixture can meanwhile also be used by taxis, cars and trucks.
And Bio-bean has its sight set on continental Europe, in particular France, where some 38 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year.
“We’re not saying that it’s going to totally replace fossil fuels overnight,” Kay said.
“The amount of diesel produced globally is always going to be more than the amount of coffee.”
But the 27-year-old Stanford graduate wants to be part of a broader conversation about waste and recycling.
“We want to see an entrepreneur going and doing something cool with waste from beer, or from tea,” he explained.