Biofuels from coffee grounds could help power London

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Used coffee grounds are diverted from landfills and turned into biofuels by London company Bio-bean

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That morning cup of joe ahead of your daily commute may end up providing more than just the refreshing boost needed to tackle the day ahead. London-based company, Bio-bean, hopes to turn left-over coffee grounds into biodiesel for vehicles and biomass pellets to heat buildings.

While using recycled coffee grounds to power a car is nothing new, the difference with Bio-bean is its grand ambitions to massively scale up a system of recycling, processing and fueling for a large city, in this case London. Basically, it wants the city’s coffee dispensaries to contribute their leftovers, and then to process the grounds into pellets which can be used to heat homes. And because coffee waste is around 20 percent oil, it can also be processed into ethanol or biodiesel and used in cars and buses capable of burning the fuel.

The company collects coffee waste from industrial coffee factories, coffee shops, offices and transport hubs, including London’s seven largest rail stations. And while their current take amounts to just several hundred tons each week, they plan to scale up to 50,000 tons in 2016, about a quarter of London’s annual coffee waste. Coffee shops and other producers give their grounds to Bio-bean for free, which saves them from otherwise hefty landfill fees.

The coffee remains are dried at Bio-bean's 20,000 square foot (1,860 sq m) facility, then the oil is separated through the biochemical process of hexane extraction. The remaining fiber, some 80 percent, is pressed into pellets which can be burned in boilers for heat, which are said to produce 150 percent more energy than wood pellets, due to a higher calorie content. The solvent used in the extraction process is 99.9 percent recyclable.

Coffee waste as a biofuel feed stock has several advantages. It doesn’t compete with food crops in the same way as first-generation biofuels made from corn or palm oil. And unlike cooking oil, which can also be used to power vehicles, coffee grounds don’t require an expensive filtering process. It’s also in constant and readily available supply, as long as cities throughout the modern world maintain their caffeine habits.

The inspiration for Bio-bean came from founder Arthur Kay, who was tasked in his university architecture program with devising a sustainable closed-loop waste-to-energy system to power buildings. And like any successful startup looking to scale up, Bio-bean has been able to gain top end support, including from Virgin's Richard Branson and London mayor Boris Johnson.

"Bio-bean saves money for customers and creates environmental advantages compared to other forms of waste disposal," says Daniel Crockett, head of communications at the company. "The local government and business community have been extremely supportive in the early stages of our growth."

The goal is to make enough pellets to heat upward of 15,000 homes. The fuel would eventually be used to help power the city’s transport system, which currently makes use of buses that run on biodiesel.

Source: Bio-bean

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