Coffee Gives you Power

Posted by Chuck Harrell on Jul 23, 2015 11:00:00 AM

beansAhhhhhhh coffee, the fuel that gives you up and running on a cold morning when you're tired and really don't want to make a commute to the office.  It gives you that little jump start in the morning that for many the day just wouldn't work without it.

By now the coffee grounds that are left behind in machines are being used to provide extra energy.  In the UK, an agreement between Network Rail and Bio-bean has been signed which will take the coffee grounds from coffee shops at London's Euston, King's Cross, Liverpool Street, Paddington, Victoria, and Waterloo stations and recycle them into biofuel pellets.

According to David Biggs, Managing Director of Property at Nework Rail, "Millions of cups of coffee are bought in our stations every year and that number is growing as passenger numbers continue to rise".  This partnership will see the waste from those purchases put to good use, creating biofuels that can be used in vehicles and to heat homes and saving more than 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

The Railway Gazette says that "Bio-bean's coffee waste recycling factory has the capacity to process 50,000 tons of waste coffee grounds a year.  Network Railway said each ton can provide 5,700 kWh,  and the 700 tons that stations generate each year could power 1,000 homes.  It would also be cheaper than disposing of the waste as landfill".

The process is explained in this article in The Guardian. The technology Bio-bean is using to do this is a mixture of old and new.  "Image you have a pile of coffee beans," says Bio-bean CEO Arthur Kay.  "You dry them, then we have the patent for the bit in the middle that allows us to extract oil from it.  It's a biochemical process, a solvent that you evaporate through what's called 'hexane extraction'.  By weight it is about 15 to 20% oil.  The remaining 80 to 85% is then turned into bio-mass pellets used to be burned in boilers."  The solvent is also 99.9% recyclable, meaning it can be used over and over."

Traditional biofuels take a lot of resources to develop, for example, it takes about three kilograms of corn, grown on three square meters of land, to make one liter of ethanol and companies like McDonald are powering vehicles thought their waste cooking oil.  These require expensive process before their fuels are created before it's fit for use.  As the article says "coffee is a pure waste stream and a growing one thanks to our insatiable caffeine habit." To see how much our office habit is growing, Zagat conducted their third party national coffee survey and had 1,500 respondents and discovered the average amount of daily cups of coffee is 2.1 per day.  So, that's an awful lot of coffee grounds. 

"We see this as the next step in creating a sustainable supply chain " says Kay.  "People have concentrated a lot on the first date of supply chain, the Fairtrade and the Rainforest Alliance.


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