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Coffee Gives You Power

Coffee, the fuel that gets you up and running on a cold morning when you’re tired and really don’t want to make your 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.

But 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 Network 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 tonnes 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 tonnes of waste coffee grounds a year. Network Railway said each tonne can provide 5,700 kWh, and the 700 tonnes that the 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. "Imagine you have a pile of coffee grounds," 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 15-20% oil. The remaining 80-85% 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 McDonalds are powering vehicles through their waste cooking oil. These require expensive processes 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 our much our coffee habit is growing Zagat conducted their third National Coffee Survey and had 1,500 respondents and discovered that the average amount of daily cups of coffee is 2.1 per day. So that’s an awful lot of coffee grounds on a global scale.

"We see this as the next step in creating a sustainable supply chain," says Kay. "People have concentrated a lot on the first stage of the supply chain, the Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance movements to ethically source coffee. But then as soon as someone drinks it it's seen as the end of it – we're saying the next step of sustainability is to close the loop and ethically dispose of it, and creating something really valuable from it."

Since we’re not about to stop drinking coffee anytime soon and the grounds are simply a by-product, could this be another solution to the problems of peak-oil?