Coffee is on the minds of many these days–coffee grounds, that is. And no wonder. Pondering the meaning of life over that cup of java naturally leads to pondering the values of sustainability and eco-claims for businesses (it does for me at least), and what’s a more sustainable, multipurpose ingredient than the dregs from our favorite brew?
After all, gardeners have been using coffee grounds to benefit their plants for eons. Housekeepers use them to clean their pots and tone up furniture scratches, and cooks use them to scour off the stain and smell of their favorite foods (and you thought that was all there was in the pot after you finished your morning brew).
But all of those uses won’t absorb the left over grounds found in say, London, England, where its plethora of coffeehouses produce more than 200,000 tons of filtered coffee grounds per year.
And that’s why both researchers and private companies have been so intent upon finding ways to use those grounds in mass production. The University of Nevada (Reno) experimented with extracting and converting the coffee oils to biofuels through transesterification in 2008. Converting spent coffee grounds to burnable pellets that can be used to fuel boilers and pellet stoves has already been done as well. Coffee grounds were already in use as a burnable supply for boilers in 2009 when entrepreneur Paul Kalenian was trucking his coffee grounds to a steam-fueled plant for use.
But using these two technologies in synchrony to take the benefit of both the coffee bean’s oils and its woody, burnable pulp has been a challenge for some years–and interestingly, one that would take an architecture graduate and a green entrepreneur to figure out.
Arthur Kay and Benjamin Harriman are the brains behind Bio-Bean, a company that aims to put London’s bounty of coffee grounds to good, recyclable use. Their company, which is still in nascent stages, has already received some thumbs-up, including a significant one from Mayor Boris Johnson, who wants London’s young entrepreneurs to step forward in support of green business.
Bio-Bean plans include a pickup service for London's coffeehouses and roasters, that will then allow it to extract the oils from the grounds, convert them to biodiesel, and then produce burnable pellets with the remainder of the bean. Both products can be easily used in the U.K., since London’s buses all run on biodiesel and the pellets can be used for heating fuel.
Their idea also gets around one other challenge: It diminishes the use of food crops for diesel production.
Bio-Bean hopes to have its factory up and running in the London area by the end of the year.
Image: Alex Upshur